Care Robots in Practice

The paper “Co-Robots as Care Robots” by Oliver Bendel, Alina Gasser and Joel Siebenmann, accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”, can be accessed via arxiv.org/abs/2004.04374. From the abstract: “Cooperation and collaboration robots, co-robots or cobots for short, are an integral part of factories. For example, they work closely with the fitters in the automotive sector, and everyone does what they do best. However, the novel robots are not only relevant in production and logistics, but also in the service sector, especially where proximity between them and the users is desired or unavoidable. For decades, individual solutions of a very different kind have been developed in care. Now experts are increasingly relying on co-robots and teaching them the special tasks that are involved in care or therapy. This article presents the advantages, but also the disadvantages of co-robots in care and support, and provides information with regard to human-robot interaction and communication. The article is based on a model that has already been tested in various nursing and retirement homes, namely Lio from F&P Robotics, and uses results from accompanying studies. The authors can show that co-robots are ideal for care and support in many ways. Of course, it is also important to consider a few points in order to guarantee functionality and acceptance.” Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical meeting to be held at Stanford University was postponed. It will take place in November 2020 in Washington (AAAI 2020 Fall Symposium Series).

Bodyhacking at Salon Suisse

“Bodily Encounters” is the title of the Salon Suisse at this year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. On Thursday, 26 November 2020, a lecture by Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel on bio- and bodyhacking will take place in Palazzo Trevisan, followed by a discussion with Mike Schaffner and Prof. Dr. Georg Vrachliotis. Biohacking can be defined as the use of biological, chemical or technical means to penetrate organisms or their components in order to change and improve them. The combination of organisms is also possible, creating real-life chimeras. A subsection of biohacking is bodyhacking, in which one intervenes in the animal or human body with biological and chemical, but above all technical means (computer chips, magnets, devices of all kinds, exoskeletons and prostheses), often with the aim of animal or human enhancement and sometimes with a transhumanist mentality. Oliver Bendel is an information and machine ethicist and has been working on human enhancement and animal enhancement for years. Georg Vrachliotis is a professor of architecture, Mike Schaffner is a transhumanist. The Salon Suisse program is available here.

Imitating the Agile Locomotion Skills of Four-legged Animals

Imitating the agile locomotion skills of animals has been a longstanding challenge in robotics. Manually-designed controllers have been able to reproduce many complex behaviors, but building such controllers is time-consuming and difficult. According to Xue Bin Peng (Google Research and University of California, Berkeley) and his co-authors, reinforcement learning provides an interesting alternative for automating the manual effort involved in the development of controllers. In their work, they present “an imitation learning system that enables legged robots to learn agile locomotion skills by imitating real-world animals” (Xue Bin Peng et al. 2020). They show “that by leveraging reference motion data, a single learning-based approach is able to automatically synthesize controllers for a diverse repertoire behaviors for legged robots” (Xue Bin Peng et al. 2020). By incorporating sample efficient domain adaptation techniques into the training process, their system “is able to learn adaptive policies in simulation that can then be quickly adapted for real-world deployment” (Xue Bin Peng et al. 2020). For demonstration purposes, the scientists trained “a quadruped robot to perform a variety of agile behaviors ranging from different locomotion gaits to dynamic hops and turns” (Xue Bin Peng et al. 2020).

WHO Fights COVID-19 Misinformation with Viber Chatbot

A new WHO chatbot on Rakuten Viber aims to get accurate information about COVID-19 to people in several languages. “Once subscribed to the WHO Viber chatbot, users will receive notifications with the latest news and information directly from WHO. Users can also learn how to protect themselves and test their knowledge on coronavirus through an interactive quiz that helps bust myths. Another goal of the partnership is to fight misinformation.” (Website WHO) Some days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services have launched a chatbot that helps people decide what to do if they have potential Coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. However, this dialog system is only intended for people who are permanently or temporarily in the USA. The new WHO chatbot is freely available in English, Russian and Arabic with more than 20 languages to be added.

Considerations on Bodyhacking

In the case of bodyhacking one intervenes invasively or non-invasively in the animal or human body, often in the sense of animal or human enhancement and sometimes with the ideology of transhumanism. It is about physical and psychological transformation, and it can result in the animal or human cyborg. Oliver Bendel wrote an article on bio- and bodyhacking for Bosch-Zünder, the legendary associate magazine that has been around since 1919. It was published in March 2020 in ten languages, in German, but also in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Some time ago, Oliver Bendel had already emphasized: “From the perspective of bio-, medical, technical, and information ethics, bodyhacking can be seen as an attempt to shape and improve one’s own or others’ lives and experiences. It becomes problematic as soon as social, political or economic pressure arises, for example when the wearing of a chip for storing data and for identification becomes the norm, which hardly anyone can avoid.” (Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon) He has recently published a scientific paper on the subject in the German Journal HMD. More about Bosch-Zünder at www.bosch.com/de/stories/bosch-zuender-mitarbeiterzeitung/.

The Coronavirus Chatbot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services have launched a chatbot that will help people decide what to do if they have potential Coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. This was reported by the magazine MIT Technology Review on 24 March 2020. “The hope is the self-checker bot will act as a form of triage for increasingly strained health-care services.” (MIT Technology Review, 24 March 2020) According to the magazine, the chatbot asks users questions about their age, gender, and location, and about any symptoms they’re experiencing. It also inquires whether they may have met someone diagnosed with COVID-19. On the basis of the users’ replies, it recommends the best next step. “The bot is not supposed to replace assessment by a doctor and isn’t intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment purposes, but it could help figure out who most urgently needs medical attention and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals.” (MIT Technology Review, 24 March 2020) The service is intended for people who are currently located in the US. International research is being done not only on useful but also on moral chatbots.

A Morality Markup Language

There are several markup languages for different applications. The best known is certainly the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). AIML has established itself in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For synthetic voices SSML is used. The question is whether the possibilities with regard to autonomous systems are exhausted. In the article “The Morality Menu” by Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, a Morality Markup Language (MOML) was proposed for the first time. In 2019, a student research project supervised by the information and machine ethicist investigated the possibilities of existing languages with regard to moral aspects and whether a MOML is justified. The results were presented in January 2020. A bachelor thesis at the School of Business FHNW will go one step further from the end of March 2020. In it, the basic features of a Morality Markup Language are to be developed. The basic structure and specific commands will be proposed and described. The application areas, advantages and disadvantages of such a markup language are to be presented. The client of the work is Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, supervisor Dr. Elzbieta Pustulka.

SPACE THEA

Space travel includes travel and transport to, through and from space for civil or military purposes. The take-off on earth is usually done with a launch vehicle. The spaceship, like the lander, is manned or unmanned. The target can be the orbit of a celestial body, a satellite, planet or comet. Man has been to the moon several times, now man wants to go to Mars. The astronaut will not greet the robots that are already there as if he or she had been lonely for months. For on the spaceship he or she had been in the best of company. SPACE THEA spoke to him or her every day. When she noticed that he or she had problems, she changed her tone of voice, the voice became softer and happier, and what she said gave the astronaut hope again. How SPACE THEA really sounds and what she should say is the subject of a research project that will start in spring 2020 at the School of Business FHNW. Under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, a student is developing a voicebot that shows empathy towards an astronaut. The scenario is a proposal that can also be rejected. Maybe in these times it is more important to have a virtual assistant for crises and catastrophes in case one is in isolation or quarantine. However, the project in the fields of social robotics and machine ethics is entitled “THE EMPHATIC ASSISTANT IN SPACE (SPACE THEA)”. The results – including the prototype – will be available by the end of 2020.

The HUGGIE Project

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. It is inspired by the work of Ishiguro, but especially by the research on HuggieBot. By summer 2020, the students will conduct an online survey to find out the attitudes and expectations of the users.

Cybathlon 2020 Postponed

According to a press release, ETH Zurich has decided to postpone the Cybathlon until 19 – 20 September 2020. “The decision was prompted by the uncertainty as to how the coronavirus will develop over the coming weeks, and the international dimension of the Cybathlon – over 25 of the teams that have registered come from Asia and Italy, areas badly hit by the virus.” (Press release ETHZ, 10 March 2020) During the Cybathlon in the SWISS Arena in Kloten near Zurich in 2016, athletes with disabilities competed to master everyday challenges using assistive technology. The teams came from all over the world. The audience enthusiastically joined in as the virtual race with mind control, the bicycle race with muscle stimulation and the arm prosthesis, leg prosthesis and wheelchair course took place. Since February 2020, COVID-19 has led to numerous cancellations and postponements of major events. More information via ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2020/03/cybathlon-postponed.html.