With every advancement that technology has, people say that the future is getting closer. Although interactive holograms may not yet be available to the world, interactive robots are.

Academics at the University of Lincoln have been investigating what robots could mean for our future. They want to know if robots will not only be able to make things like they currently do in factories, but if they are provided with an artificial intelligence (AI) then would they be able to assist in the care of the elderly or help children and adults who have autism and other attachment disorders.

The PhD student carrying out  the research into human and robot relationships is Mriganka Biswas. He explained “Cognitive biases make humans what they are, fashioning characteristics and personality, complete with errors and imperfections. Therefore, introducing cognitive biases in a robot’s characteristics makes the robot imperfect by nature, but also more human-like.”

A design from an open source project called Inmoov provided the design for the look and feel of a robot. The University used those designs to create a 3D-printedcreated a robot called MARC (Multi-Actuated Robotic Companion). Once printed, MARC was programmed by researchers at the University to interact with people so that the interactions between humans and robots can be studied.

MARC is one of two robots who have been created to help scientists understand, and predict, more realistic long-term relationships as well as how these develop between people and robots with an AI. The original robot is ERWIN (Emotional Robot with Intelligence Network), a simplistic robot which can show emotion by smiling, frowning, showing surprise and fear.

Dr John Murray, Senior Lecturer in the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln, said: “What this has shown us is that ERWIN, the more simplistic robot is actually appreciated more by people. We have not used MARC, the 3D printed robot, to a great extent just yet as he was only finished recently.”

The team have introduced characteristics and personalities to MARC in the hopes that he will eventually work with the elderly or children who have Autism, Asperger syndrome and other attachment disorders.

Existing research shows that adults and children who have Autism can find it difficult to form both emotional and social relationships. Researchers at the University are hoping this research could help these people to form relationships more easily and help teach them how to do that through the interaction with the robots. Research in Spain has already identified that children with Autism do respond to robots and it can help them to understand emotions and reactions through repetitive play.


Mriganka said: “Robots need to be friendly and relatively more sympathetic and emotive to users in these situations. A companion robot needs to be friendly and have the ability to recognise users’ emotions and needs, and to act accordingly. The robot needs to form a ‘long-term’ relationship with its users, which is possible by continuous interactions and the robot having its own personality and characteristics.”

These robots have a lot of potential but at the moment the University is using them as a platform to test out models and theories about how people interact with them and how relationships can be formed. MARC is currently in a humanoid form, looking very much like the robots from the film I-Robot. Dr Murray said: “The robot itself might change. It might turn out that humans find it very creepy to have a life-like robot walking around interacting with them. In which case, we would change the design of the robot completely.”

Both MARC and ERWIN are travelling to many events around the country, to teach students about them and to continue various interaction experiments. Dr Murray believes that by showcasing the robots the researchers will be able to see much more considerable evidence of how they can interact with the general public and how they are then perceived from that.

You would assume that it would cost a fortune to build and programme robots such as these as it is top end technology and research. But since a 3D printer has been used to create MARC, it has actually cut costs considerably. The best part is that if any part of him breaks, it can be easily replaced again, using the 3D printer to create a new attachment.

So could something like the story “I-Robot” actually come to pass in the distant future? Well, the technology is starting to become available; it is just a case of finding the right balance of emotional responses from the robots. In the distant future, it could be the case that every person has their own robot in the house to do all the house work and keep you company for only a few thousand pounds.

“We are talking long-term future, probably a couple of generations, but I do think it is something that you will see a lot more of,” explained Dr Murray.  “I think that there is a definite possibility that, in the future, people will be able to have a robot in their house to do the cleaning and housework.”

The future is definitely getting closer every day but is still a long way off from being tomorrow.

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