Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics

The book „Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics“ (eds. Marco Nørskov, Johanna Seibt, and Oliver Santiago Quick) was published in December 2020 by IOS Press. From the publisher’s information: „Robophilosophy conferences have been the world’s largest venues for humanities research in and on social robotics. The book at hand presents the proceedings of Robophilosophy Conference 2020: Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics, the fourth event in the international, biennial Robophilosophy Conference Series, which brought together close to 400 participants from 29 countries. The speakers of the conference, whose contributions are collected in this volume, were invited to offer concrete proposals for how the Humanities can help to shape a future where social robotics is guided by the goals of enhancing socio-cultural values rather than by utility alone. The book is divided into 3 parts; Abstracts of Plenaries, which contains 6 plenary sessions; Session Papers, with 44 papers under 8 thematic categories; and Workshops, containing 25 items on 5 selected topics.“ (Website IOS Press) Contributors include Robert Sparrow, Alan Winfield, Aimee van Wynsberghe, John Danaher, Johanna Seibt, Marco Nørskov, Peter Remmers, John P. Sullins, and Oliver Bendel.

Fig.: Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics

From Human to Robot Enhancement

The project on robot enhancement at the School of Business FHNW has been running since the summer of 2020 and an online survey is currently being conducted. Participation is still possible until November 30, 2020. Vedrana Petrovic and Thao Doan Thi Thu sent a message to all students at the university: „We are two students studying International Management at campus Olten and currently writing our bachelor thesis about social robot enhancement. This thesis is supervised by Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel and written on behalf of the FHNW. The objective of this bachelor thesis is to examine a potential new working field related to social robots. Therefore, your responses will be very valuable to us. The online survey takes about 5-10 minutes to be completed and can be done until 30 November 2020. Any data is treated anonymously and solely used for the purpose of the survey. Also, don’t miss the chance to win two Coop vouchers worth CHF 20 each at the end of the survey! You can access the survey here: www.surveymonkey.com/r/Y88DNZ3 …“ Over 100 people have already taken part. In order to reach even more people, the students have agreed with the supervisor to spread the link via blogs.

Fig.: From human to robot enhancement

Houston, I have a problem!

Social robots are robots that come close to animals and humans, interact and communicate with them. They reproduce characteristics of animals and humans in their behavior and appearance. They can be implemented both as hardware robots and as software robots. The SPACE THEA project should have already started in March 2020. Because of COVID-19 it had to be postponed. Now Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel (School of Business FHNW) starts with the preparatory work. In winter 2020/2021 and spring 2021 the programming of the voicebot is then carried out. SPACE THEA is designed to accompany astronauts to Mars and to show them empathy and emotions. In the best case, she should also be able to provide psychological counseling, for example, based on cases from the literature. The project will use findings from social robotics, but also from machine ethics. The results will be available by summer 2021.

Fig.: SPACE THEA

Towards HUGGIE

In the first part of the HUGGIE project initiated by Oliver Bendel, two students of the School of Business FHNW conducted an online survey with almost 300 participants. In the management summary of their bachelor thesis Ümmühan Korucu and Leonie Stocker (formerly Leonie Brogle) write: „The results of the survey indicated that people have a positive attitude towards robots in general as robots are perceived as interesting and useful rather than unnecessary and disturbing. However, only a minority of the participants stated that they would accept a hug from a robot. A possible reason for this could be that for the majority of participants, a hug is an act of intimacy with a deeper meaning attached to it which is only being shared with selected persons. For a robot to be perceived as an attractive hugging partner, a human-like design including a face, eyes, a friendly look as well as the ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally is desired. However, an appearance being too realistic has a deterrent effect. Furthermore, an in-depth analysis of the data in relation to age and gender of the participants resulted in the discovery of interesting facts and differences. Overall, the findings contribute to a clearer picture about the appearance and the features Huggie should have in order to be accepted as a hugging counterpart.“ The bachelor thesis will be publicly available in autumn 2020. There will also be a paper with the results next year.

Fig.: A part of a hug

Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions?

The paper „Care Robots with Sexual Assistance Functions“ by Oliver Bendel, accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposium „Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment“, can be accessed via arxiv.org/abs/2004.04428. From the abstract: „Residents in retirement and nursing homes have sexual needs just like other people. However, the semi-public situation makes it difficult for them to satisfy these existential concerns. In addition, they may not be able to meet a suitable partner or find it difficult to have a relationship for mental or physical reasons. People who live or are cared for at home can also be affected by this problem. Perhaps they can host someone more easily and discreetly than the residents of a health facility, but some elderly and disabled people may be restricted in some ways. This article examines the opportunities and risks that arise with regard to care robots with sexual assistance functions. First of all, it deals with sexual well-being. Then it presents robotic systems ranging from sex robots to care robots. Finally, the focus is on care robots, with the author exploring technical and design issues. A brief ethical discussion completes the article. The result is that care robots with sexual assistance functions could be an enrichment of the everyday life of people in need of care, but that we also have to consider some technical, design and moral aspects.“ Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical meeting to be held at Stanford University was postponed. It will take place in November 2020 in Washington (AAAI 2020 Fall Symposium Series).

Fig.: Can robots complement or replace sexual relationships?

From Co-Robots to Care Robots

The paper „Co-Robots as Care Robots“ by Oliver Bendel, Alina Gasser and Joel Siebenmann, accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposium „Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment“, can be accessed via arxiv.org/abs/2004.04374. From the abstract: „Cooperation and collaboration robots, co-robots or cobots for short, are an integral part of factories. For example, they work closely with the fitters in the automotive sector, and everyone does what they do best. However, the novel robots are not only relevant in production and logistics, but also in the service sector, especially where proximity between them and the users is desired or unavoidable. For decades, individual solutions of a very different kind have been developed in care. Now experts are increasingly relying on co-robots and teaching them the special tasks that are involved in care or therapy. This article presents the advantages, but also the disadvantages of co-robots in care and support, and provides information with regard to human-robot interaction and communication. The article is based on a model that has already been tested in various nursing and retirement homes, namely Lio from F&P Robotics, and uses results from accompanying studies. The authors can show that co-robots are ideal for care and support in many ways. Of course, it is also important to consider a few points in order to guarantee functionality and acceptance.“ Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical meeting to be held at Stanford University was postponed. It will take place in November 2020 in Washington (AAAI 2020 Fall Symposium Series).

Lost in Space

Space travel includes travel and transport to, through and from space for civil or military purposes. The take-off on earth is usually done with a launch vehicle. The spaceship, like the lander, is manned or unmanned. The target can be the orbit of a celestial body, a satellite, planet or comet. Man has been to the moon several times, now man wants to go to Mars. The astronaut will not greet the robots that are already there as if he or she had been lonely for months. For on the spaceship he or she had been in the best of company. SPACE THEA spoke to him or her every day. When she noticed that he or she had problems, she changed her tone of voice, the voice became softer and happier, and what she said gave the astronaut hope again. How SPACE THEA really sounds and what she should say is the subject of a research project that will start in spring 2020 at the School of Business FHNW. Under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, a student is developing a voicebot that shows empathy towards an astronaut. The scenario is a proposal that can also be rejected. Maybe in these times it is more important to have a virtual assistant for crises and catastrophes in case one is in isolation or quarantine. However, the project in the fields of social robotics and machine ethics is entitled THE EMPATHIC ASSISTANT IN SPACE (SPACE THEA). The results – including the prototype – will be available by the end of 2020.

Fig.: A spaceship

Hugged by a Robot

The first phase of the HUGGIE project will start at the School of Business FHNW in March 2020. Oliver Bendel was able to recruit two students from the International Management program. The project idea is to create a social robot that contributes directly to a good life and economic success by touching and hugging people and especially customers. HUGGIE should be able to warm up in some places, and it should be possible to change the materials it is covered with. A research question will be: What are the possibilities besides warmth and softness? Are optical stimuli (also on displays), vibrations, noises, voices etc. important for a successful hug? HUGGIE could also play a role in crises and disasters, in epidemics and pandemics and in cases of permanent social distancing. Of course it would be bad if only a robot would hug us, and of course it would be good if humans could hug us every day if we wanted them to do so – but maybe in extreme situations a hug by a robot is better than nothing. The HUGGIE project is located in the heart of social robotics and on the periphery of machine ethics. By summer 2020, the students will conduct an online survey to find out the attitudes and expectations of the users.

Fig.: Hugged by a robot

Flying Science

Mit der Reihe „Mensch und Maschine – Maschinenmensch“, die am 23. Oktober 2014 in Basel startet, wollen die Veranstalter (Flying Science in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Institut für Wirtschaftsinformatik, Hochschule für Wirtschaft FHNW) zeigen, „wie interdisziplinär, spannend und aktuell die vermeintlich rein technischen Themen der angewandten Informatik sind“ (Website Flying Science). „Verschiedene Fachleute gehen der Frage nach, wie sich die Gesellschaft neuen Technologien anpasst und umgekehrt. Die Reihe ist auch eine Networking-Plattform für alle, die sich für Inputs an der Schnittstelle zwischen Technik und Kultur interessieren und sich austauschen möchten.“ (Website Flying Science) Lehrreich wird sicherlich der Vortrag von Dr. Andreas Cremonini (Universität Basel). Er spricht am 6. November 2014 über „Echte Menschen“. In den Wochen darauf treten Prof. Dr. Hania Siebenpfeiffer (Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald) und Dr. Dennis Plachta (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) vor das Publikum. Den Auftakt macht Prof. Dr. Rolf Dornberger, Hochschule für Wirtschaft FHNW. Er referiert als Wirtschaftsinformatiker über „Maschinen im Alltag“. Weitere Informationen über www.flyingscience.ch.