A Mobile Charging Robot

Futurism.com reports that Volkswagen has unveiled a working prototype of a robot that can autonomously charge electric cars. “The Mobile Charging Robot is an adorable squat bot – which, when you get right down to it, is strikingly reminiscent of the R2-D2 droid from ‘Star Wars,’ bleeps and bloops included.” (Futurism.com, 28 December 2020) As a result, the service robot becomes a social robot. This may be a benefit for the video, but whether it is necessary in practice remains to be seen. The basic idea is that the robots move to cars that are parked in large residential complexes – and where there is not necessarily a human in the vicinity (and where therefore no social interaction is needed). But the concept is questionable in other respects as well. A mobile energy storage of this type seems to be inefficient: “basically, you’d have to charge the robot’s battery supply which it then uses to charge electric cars” (Futurism.com, 28 December 2020). Nevertheless, the idea should be pursued. Without a doubt, there are logistical advantages to having a robot drive to and charge cars – fewer charging stations are needed, and you can service two vehicles at once.

Proceedings on 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.

Cozmo is Almost Back

One year ago, The Robot Report reported that Anki’s little robots might be making a comeback. Digital Dream Labs in Pittsburgh acquired the patents, trademarks, and domain. The start-up company “is planning to revive and manufacture more units of each product in the following order: Overdrive, Cozmo, Vector” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Digital Dream Labs founder H. Jacob Hanchar told The Robot Report “the goal is to have all three products available for purchase for Christmas 2020” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Now it seems that pre-orders of Cozmo 2.0 are possible: “Cozmo is a fun, educational toy robot that you can be used to teach children the basics of coding. Whether he is performing tricks, exploring his environment or teaching coding, Cozmo is always full of personality. Pre-order your new Cozmo today for delivery as early as May 15th.” (Website Digital Dream Labs) Cozmo and his friends belong to the best social robots that the industry has ever produced. What is special about Cozmo is the many emotions it can show (but of course doesn’t have). It also has face recognition and a night vision device. More information at www.digitaldreamlabs.com.

Research Program on Responsible AI

“HASLER RESPONSIBLE AI” is a research program of the Hasler Foundation open to research institutions within the higher education sector or non-commercial research institutions outside the higher education sector. The foundation explains the goals of the program in a call for project proposals: “The HASLER RESPONSIBLE AI program will support research projects that investigate machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence systems whose results meet requirements on responsibility and trustworthiness. Projects are expected to seriously engage in the application of the new models and methods in scenarios that are relevant to society. In addition, projects should respect the interdisciplinary character of research in the area of RESPONSIBLE AI by involving the necessary expertise.” (CfPP by Hasler Foundation) Deadline for submission of short proposals is 24 January 2021. More information at haslerstiftung.ch.

About the “Handbuch Maschinenethik”

The “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer VS over a year ago. It brings together contributions from leading experts in the fields of machine ethics, robot ethics, technology ethics, philosophy of technology and robot law. It has become a comprehensive, exemplary and unique book. In a way, it forms a counterpart to the American research that dominates the discipline: Most of the authors (among them Julian Nida-Rümelin, Catrin Misselhorn, Eric Hilgendorf, Monika Simmler, Armin Grunwald, Matthias Scheutz, Janina Loh and Luís Moniz Pereira) come from Europe and Asia. They had been working on the project since 2017 and submitted their contributions continuously until it went to print. The editor, who has been working on information, robot and machine ethics for 20 years and has been doing intensive research on machine ethics for nine years, is pleased to report that 53,000 downloads have already been recorded – quite a lot for a highly specialized book. The first article for a second edition is also available, namely “The BESTBOT Project” (in English like some other contributions) …

New Journal on AI and Ethics

Springer launches a new journal entitled “AI and Ethics”. This topic has been researched for several years from various perspectives, including information ethics, robot ethics (aka roboethics) and machine ethics. From the description: “AI and Ethics seeks to promote informed debate and discussion of the ethical, regulatory, and policy implications that arise from the development of AI. It will focus on how AI techniques, tools, and technologies are developing, including consideration of where these developments may lead in the future. The journal will provide opportunities for academics, scientists, practitioners, policy makers, and the public to consider how AI might affect our lives in the future, and what implications, benefits, and risks might emerge. Attention will be given to the potential intentional and unintentional misuses of the research and technology presented in articles we publish. Examples of harmful consequences include weaponization, bias in face recognition systems, and discrimination and unfairness with respect to race and gender.

Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots

In October 2020 the book “Maschinenliebe” (ed. Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer. The title means “Machine Love”, “Machines for Love” or “Machines of Love”. Three contributions are in English. One of them (“Intimate Relationships with Humanoid Robots”) is by Yuefang Zhou and Martin H. Fischer (University of Potsdam). From the abstract: “The topic of human-robot intimate relationships is not only an intensely emotional one that is present in the mass media because of its ability to stir excitement. The very same topic also requires our understanding of basic mechanisms of the human mind and of social cognition in particular. A scientifically-minded framing of the debate around whether and how we might engage in intimate relationships with humanoid robots in the near future might in turn improve our understanding of human sexuality. Viewed from this angle, intimate human-robot interaction is then merely one of many examples of studying human-machine interactions for the benefit of users and as a means of improving our knowledge about humans and the human mind. In this chapter we will adopt such a stance and discuss both social-cognitive and sexual aspects of this innovative topic, review available empirical evidence and offer some suggestions for further research.” More information via www.springer.com/de/book/9783658298630.

Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Prisons

On 24 October 2020 the article “Love Dolls and Sex Robots in Unproven and Unexplored Fields of Application” by Oliver Bendel was published in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics. From the abstract: “Love dolls, the successors of blow-up dolls, are widespread. They can be ordered online or bought in sex shops and can be found in brothels and households. Sex robots are also on the rise. Research, however, has been slow to address this topic thoroughly. Often, it does not differentiate between users and areas of application, remaining vague, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The present contribution deals with the idea and history of love dolls and sex robots. Against this background, it identifies areas of application that have not been investigated or have hardly been investigated at all. These include prisons, the military, monasteries and seminaries, science, art and design as well as the gamer scene. There is, at least, some relevant research about the application of these artefacts in nursing and retirement homes and as such, these will be given priority. The use of love dolls and sex robots in all these fields is outlined, special features are discussed, and initial ethical, legal and pragmatic considerations are made. It becomes clear that artificial love servants can create added value, but that their use must be carefully considered and prepared. In some cases, their use may even be counterproductive.” The article is available here for free as an open access publication.

AI in Medical Robotics

The Emmy Noether Research Group “The Phenomenon of Interaction in Human-Machine Interaction” and the Institute of Ethics, History, and Theory of Medicine (LMU Munich) host a lecture series “on some of the pressing issues arising in the context of implementing and using AI in medicine”. “Each date will consist of three short talks by renowned experts in the respective fields followed by a roundtable discussion. All lectures are held online (Zoom) until further notice.” (Website The Philosophy of Human-Machine Interaction) On 19 November 2020 (18.00-19.30) the topic will be “AI in Medical Robotics”. Speakers will be Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland), Prof. Dr. Manfred Hild (Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin) and Dr. Janina Loh (University of Wien). The presentation language is German. More information via interactionphilosophy.wordpress.com.

Service Robots in Epidemics and Pandemics

On October 14, 2020 the article “Der Einsatz von Servicerobotern bei Epidemien und Pandemien” (“The use of service robots in epidemics and pandemics”) by Oliver Bendel was published in HMD – Praxis der Wirtschaftsinformatik. From the abstract: “Robots have always been used to carry out dangerous tasks or tasks that are not manageable for us. They defuse bombs, transport hazardous materials and work their way into areas inaccessible to humans. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that even service robots, which are not actually intended for special cases, can provide helpful services in the care of isolated persons and in the containment of diseases. This paper presents four types of service robots. Then it gives examples of robot use during the coronavirus crisis in 2020. Finally, the question in which extent and in what way the robot types can cooperate and whether some of them can be developed into generalists is examined. Business models and operating opportunities are also discussed. The paper shows that cohorts of robots could be vital in the future.” It is part of Volume 57, Issue 6 (December 2020) with a focus on robotics and is available here for free as an open access publication (in German).