With Hugvie and Somnox Sleep Robot, researchers and companies has made it clear that it is possible to build simple, soft social robots that have a certain utility and impact. This raises hopes for social robotics, which is currently showing some progress, but is still developing slowly. Materials such as rubber and plastic can be used to make simple, soft social robots. These materials can be combined with existing devices such as smartphones and tablets on which you run certain applications, or with simple sensors and electronic components. The project or thesis, announced by Oliver Bendel in August 2020 at the School of Business FHNW, will first do research on the basics of simple, soft social robots. The work of Hiroshi Ishiguro and Alexis Block (with Katherine J. Kuchenbecker) will be included. Then, examples of implementation forms are mentioned and sketched. Their purpose and benefits are presented, as well as possible areas of application. One example is to be implemented, whereby speech abilities and sounds can be an option as well as vibration and electrical impulses. The reference to applications in the household, in public space or in the commercial sector should be established. The project will start in February 2021.
Soft robots with soft surfaces and soft fingers are in vogue. They can touch people, animals, and plants as well as fragile things in such a way that nothing is hurt or destroyed. However, they are vulnerable themselves. One cut, one punch, and they are damaged. According to the Guardian, a European commission-funded project is trying to solve this problem. It aims to create “self-healing” robots “that can feel pain, or sense damage, before swiftly patching themselves up without human intervention”. “The researchers have already successfully developed polymers that can heal themselves by creating new bonds after about 40 minutes. The next step will be to embed sensor fibres in the polymer which can detect where the damage is located. The end goal is to make the healing automated, avoiding the current need for heat to activate the system, through the touch of a human hand.” (Guardian, 8 August 2019) Surely the goal will not be that the robots really suffer. This would have tremendous implications – they would have to be given rights. Rather, it is an imaginary pain – a precondition for the self-repairing process or other reactions.