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.
COVID-19 demonstrates that digitization and technologization can be helpful in crises and disasters. In China, service robots deliver medicine and food in hospitals and quarantine stations, and drones track people without breathing masks. Those who has to stay at home can continue to perform their tasks and receive further training via a computer workstation and e-learning applications. Globalisation is a problem in the spread of the virus, but also a solution in combating it: research was immediately carried out worldwide on a drug against SARS-CoV-2. The use of robots and drones in China has been criticised for the loss of privacy. There was also criticism of the fact that the communist party and the media market the use of robots as a chinese success story, but that some of them originate from abroad. Well-known transport robots are, for example, from Starship Technologies and Savioke. Both companies are based in California.
The organizers of the conference “RP2020: Culturally Sustainable Social Robotics” announced that the deadline for submission has been extended to May 1, 2020. The CfP raises questions like that: “How can we create cultural dynamics with or through social robots that will not impact our value landscape negatively? How can we develop social robotics applications that are culturally sustainable? If cultural sustainability is relative to a community, what can we expect in a global robot market? Could we design human-robot interactions in ways that will positively cultivate the values we, or people anywhere, care about?” (Website Robophilosophy Conference) In 2018 Hiroshi Ishiguro, Guy Standing, Catelijne Muller, Joanna Bryson, and Oliver Bendel had been keynote speakers of the Robophilosophy conference. In 2020, Catrin Misselhorn, Selma Sabanovic, and Shannon Vallor will be presenting. More information via conferences.au.dk/robo-philosophy/.
In a paper published on 13 January 2020, researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University discuss computer-designed, novel organisms called Xenobots. Xenobots consist of skin and muscle cells. The skin cells stabilize the organisms, the muscle cells enable them to perform different activities. A nervous system is not present. An AI system calculates the optimal structure and ratio of the cells in relation to a specific function. The Xenobots are assembled according to the resulting construction plan. In fact, the cells appear to work together. The researchers see different areas of application. One could build Xenobots that move forward in the sea and have a pocket inside in which they collect microplastics. Once the biorobots are filled, they can go to a place where they die, whereby it is not clear whether they live at all, like classical organisms. In any case, all that would remain in this place would be the plastic particles and functionless cells. Both can easily be disposed of. However, Xenobots would also be swallowed by marine animals like fishs and turtles during their work and would be exposed to other dangers. In addition, normal robots are better suited for the removal of macroplastics.
The company Neon picks up an old concept with its Neons, namely that of avatars. Twenty years ago, Oliver Bendel distinguished between two different types in the Lexikon der Wirtschaftsinformatik. With reference to the second, he wrote: “Avatars, on the other hand, can represent any figure with certain functions. Such avatars appear on the Internet – for example as customer advisors and newsreaders – or populate the adventure worlds of computer games as game partners and opponents. They often have an anthropomorphic appearance and independent behaviour or even real characters …” (Lexikon der Wirtschaftsinformatik, 2001, own translation) It is precisely this type that the company, which is part of the Samsung Group and was founded by Pranav Mistry, is now adapting, taking advantage of today’s possibilities. “These are virtual figures that are generated entirely on the computer and are supposed to react autonomously in real time; Mistry spoke of a latency of less than 20 milliseconds.” (Heise Online, 8 January 2019, own translation) The neons are supposed to show emotions (as do some social robots that are conquering the market) and thus facilitate and strengthen bonds. “The AI-driven character is neither a language assistant a la Bixby nor an interface to the Internet. Instead, it is a friend who can speak several languages, learn new skills and connect to other services, Mistry explained at CES.” (Heise Online, 8 January 2019, own translation)