Companion Robots: how humane machines should be

Today, so-called social robots are just beginning to conquer the robotics market. They can be divided into several groups, based on the task assigned to the machine.These are babysitting robots, whose duties include simple housework, rehabilitation robots whose task is to help people with disabilities, and robotic companions, which will be discussed below.

What would your ideal robot be  like? One who could swaddle a child and tell them a bedtime story? Or do you need a butler who can polish the silverware and mix a perfect cocktail? Or maybe you need a friend, albeit a robotic one? Of course, some people consider robots a possible future replacement for carers. But those who make robots are interested in the following: how human-like should these future robots be?

A companion robot must provide useful assistance in a socially acceptable form. This means that the first task of the companion robot is to help people. Satellite robots are designed primarily for people with special needs, such as the elderly, autistic or disabled. Robots should help in a particular environment: at home or in the hospital.

Pepper, the newest robot from Aldebaran Robotics, is a good example of an anthropoid robot companion. It can determine the mood of a person by their facial expression and communicate with people, and also help to make a choice. Pepper can adapt its behavior depending on the person’s mood, which means that in fact it cares about people. At the moment, only research institutes and residents of Japan can purchase a Pepper robot at a price of about $ 10,000.

Thanks to progress in artificial intelligence and technology, we can now develop more intelligent systems that are more able to behave humanely. Not so long ago, Nadine, a robot registrar, Yangyang, a singer-robot, and Aiko Chihira, a robot who can communicate in sign language, was developed.

Although a popular and controversial Turing test is used to measure artificial intelligence and determine its "humanity," robots are more complicated, since robots must also act reasonably. And yet there’s no standardized test that would determine how human a robot is. But in the future it may appear. While all developers of robots agree that the robot should demonstrate some social awareness and individuality, as well as be able to understand and recognize the speech and emotions of people.

Currently, satellite robots are focused on the outset of a relationship, or on a specific action. Jibo, for example, is a social robot that can talk, order food, remind you of tasks or take pictures.

Roomba, on the other hand, is a smart, but more functional vacuum cleaner.

It all comes down to finding a balance between the fulfillment of a task and the attitude of the person. The calmer a person is about a robot, the more initiative they expect from them and the more willingly they delegate tasks to it. In a study of the levels of initiative that people expect from robots, participants could choose between manually activating the robot cleaner, activating the robot according to the instructions, or activating it at will if needed. It turned out that most people want a robot to do its job without demand.

This paradoxical result can be explained by the fact that people are now more accustomed to the use of technology - from computers and smartphones to smart home appliances - operating semi-autonomously. Smart companion robots are just another step in the long evolution of our relationship with technology.

It is likely that in the future we will see more homemade companion robots, which can be customized according to individual preferences of people. And at some point such robots will become as accessible and diverse as phones are today.

We are proud to declare that Accellabs has a profound experience in developing software for such robots as Jibo. Our brilliant engineers built solid, state-of-the-art architecture, upon which they crafted software that allows robots to be smart - to be able to identify faces, voices, search for needed stuff on the internet etc. Artificial Intelligence is a futuristic, Jetsons-style image that is definitely about to affect humans on a mass scale and Accellabs is keeping up with it.