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How to Make Robots Seem Less Creepy

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MIT's Nexi robot.

For tasks that involve dealing with people, robots that can convey emotion, like MIT's Nexi, fare better than traditional robots, according to new research.

Credit: Mikey Siegel, Personal Robots Group, MIT Media Lab

Recent research has shown the "uncanny valley" hypothesis for human-robot interaction is overstated and when emotional jobs must be "botsourced," people actually prefer robots that seem capable of conveying some degree of human emotion.

The latest human-robot interaction research combines breakthroughs in robotics and psychology to suggest five important design features.

The first idea is giving robots faces helps improve human-robot interaction. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Nexi robot has more of a "baby face," and appears more capable of feeling than robots with longer chins, which appear more professorial.

In addition, research shows child-faced robots are less likely to threaten elderly individuals, who will be the primary users of future robotic healthcare assistants.

Research also shows a robot's voice is very important to its acceptance. One study found people trusted and enjoyed self-driving cars much more when the car had a voice than when it drove intelligently but silently.

People also prefer robots that mimic their behavior. Mimicry provides a type of empathy that is important for human-robot interaction, and research shows it can be conveyed even by robots that do not have a physical presence.

Finally, research shows giving robots some element of unpredictability can enhance robot acceptance.

From The Wall Street Journal
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