A “social robot” is simply a robot that can communicate with you more like a human than the cold, lifeless machine that it is.
Human interactions are complex — we use sarcasm, we vary our tone to convey different feelings behind our words, and the common behaviour of gaze aversion has us regularly looking away from a person we might be speaking directly to. This is complex stuff to teach to a robot, but it’s exactly what Breazeal attacks in her research.
Breazeal writes that her “fundamental gripe with technology is that it fails to support a more holistic human experience. It falls short in giving people a personally meaningful, emotionally engaging experience.” Over the course of attacking these problems, she helped build “Leonardo,” a two-and-a-half-foot tall robot that can track objects with its onboard cameras, mimic human facial expressions, and demonstrate basic learning abilities.
In her Robohub post, Breazeal lays out three big ways that sufficiently “social” robots could change the world. A video demo of social robot Leonardo is at the bottom of this post.
Social robots will change the way we educate children:
“Even in the most time-crunched families, parents will have a reliable, high-quality partner in education for all children. Including our youngest learners who shall enter school ready to learn, or children with special needs, receptive to the quality education they need.”
Social robots could prove effective health enforcers while remaining stoic and gentle:
“Those people who struggle with health or chronic disease issues will have the right kind of tools to change behaviour, and can independently manage their health and improve their treatment.”
The elderly could live independently much longer than they do with help from a friendly, human-esque robot:
Elders will be able to age independently in their homes with the help of a technology that feels much more like an attentive companion than yet another digital tool or a “Big Brother” monitoring system — relieving pressure on oversubscribed institutions and remaining emotionally connected to their families and loved ones that might live far away.