For decades there has been a constant effort to try and make robots more human like with techniques to mimic our behaviour through technology. There are hyper-realistic robots that have been designed to resemble humans, robots that can learn languages and now a new robot from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at British Columbia University called Charlie that makes eye-contact and mimics the behavior of human hands when gesturing and offering objects.
The $400,000 ($238,000) robot can pick up an object, glance at it and then offer it to a human whilst making eye contact. Its difficult to understand when a robot is offering something and when you can take an object from it and this new technique attempts to rid of this issue by mimicking human behavior, without the need for a verbal cue.
‘We hand things to other people multiple times a day and we do it seamlessly,’ said AJung Moon, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Canada. It may seem like a simple task but has taken the researchers months of work and programming efforts. Moon's dream is to be able to produce user-friendly robots that don't require instruction manuals where interaction is natural and human like.
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Robots have great potential for offering assistance to humans and this new design could bridge a gap between human and robot understanding such that a robot can offer assistance to a human in a more natural and non verbal way. Constantly having to hear the robot say, "here you go" could become rather monotonous very quickly.
‘We want the robot to communicate using the cues that people already recognise,’ said Ms Moon. ‘This is key to interacting with a robot in a safe and friendly manner.’
The programming was molded to resemble the way humans interact when offering each other objects and of course, they studied the interaction between two humans before designing the robot. The behavior makes interaction more fluid and less problematic. Robots that could assist the elderly is an obvious use for such a feature, however there is controversy over removing the human element of care in what can be a depressing and lonely period of one's life.