Social Robots: Emotional support from robotics

The robot market is becoming increasingly important. Intelligent and flexible machines play a particularly important role in industrial automation. But it will also be impossible to imagine the social sector without them in the near future. So-called social robots are autonomous robots designed to interact with humans and give them relief or pleasure.

By 2019, the global robotics market is estimated at approximately $1.5 billion. While current forecasts show an increased concentration of industrial robots, the demand for consumer robots is expected to grow up to seven times faster than in industry. Social robots, also known as social agents, are one of the most positive developments in the business and consumer sectors.


Application examples for social robots

Many of the social robots are equipped with a screen that displays the head or “face” to communicate dynamically with users.

Unlike their peers in industrial halls, social robots must respond to our unpredictable human behavior and read our intentions.

“Robots need to figure out what the human partner wants and intends and assumes, and then take into account these inferences in order to adapt its own behavior and respond correctly.” – Bertram Malle, PhD, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University


An example of such a social robot is Jibo. His virtual “eye” works like a big emoticon. It blinks, rolls or looks confused, while his big head lies curiously aside. The Social Robot Jibo is like an interactive comic figure, which switches on the music, reads aloud or takes photos on command. All in direct reaction to the respective user.


JIBO: The World’s First Social Robot for the Home (Source: Innovation Top/Jibo)


His childlike behaviour in particular ensures that he enjoys such a high level of trust among users.

Opportunities through the social robots

In a series of studies, Yale Professor Brian Scassellati has identified a surprising feature that makes robots more attractive to humans: the ability to cheat. In his experiment, participants played scissor-stone paper with a test robot. If the machine behaved predictably, the participants perceived it as a mere machine, but if it cheated, the test subjects behaved more humanely to their machine counterpart.

“As soon as the robot cheats, it immediately transitions from being an object to being an agent. All of a sudden, people start making eye contact with it, they’ll start talking to it and showing interpersonal space relations with it, they’ll start using personal pronouns when referring to it,” – Brian Scassellati, Professor of Computer Science, Cognitive Science, and Mechanical Engineering at Yale University


This phenomenon of human proximity is also used by Robbe Pardo robots in older patients to help them fight loneliness. The mechanical seal wiggles its fin and shows a multitude of emotions. Especially test persons with dementia who regularly spent time with Paro showed an increased degree of joy and quality of life as their peers.

PARO: Therapeutic robot baby seal for people with dementia (Source: Alzheimer’s Australia Vic)


These examples alone show that the opportunities offered by robotics go far beyond the technical work environment. In order to make the machines not only useful but also accessible for the future-critical population, engineers should cooperate more closely with sociologists in order to design the next generation of robots not only technically but also socially optimally.


Post Picture: JIBO

Alexander Pinker
Alexander Pinker
Alexander Pinker is an innovation profiler, future strategist and media expert who helps companies understand the opportunities behind technologies such as artificial intelligence for the next five to ten years. He is the founder of the consulting firm "Alexander Pinker - Innovation Profiling", the innovation marketing agency "innovate! communication" and the news platform "Medialist Innovation". He is also the author of three books and a lecturer at the Technical University of Würzburg-Schweinfurt.

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