Are we ready for workplace robots like Pepper, CIMON and Flippy?

July 2, 2018
Contact: Laurel Thomas ltgnagey@umich.edu

Disney recently announced the development of flying robots that can pose as superheroes and perform mid-air stunts, while IBM’s autonomous assistant CIMON just reached the International Space Station where he will help astronauts with scientific work and experiments.

Just last week, a robot named Pepper helped Manhattan customers understand remote banking features, although she’s not yet ready to complete a transaction, and CaliBurgers joined McDonald’s and other food chains that have adopted robot and automated technology by introducing Flippy, which eliminates line cooks in the preparation of burgers.

Robots interacting with customers and co-workers. How well does that work?

Lionel Robert can tell you.

Lionel Robert, associate professor of information.

Lionel Robert, associate professor of information.

Robert, associate professor of information at the University of Michigan School of Information, is a nationally recognized expert on robots—especially human-robot interaction.

“Humanizing robots can be both beneficial and problematic,” he said. “Beneficial in that robot co-workers and servers are likely to be accepted the more human they appear and behave. Problematic because the more human they appear and behave, the more likely people will see them as competition for labor.”

Robert’s research has shown:
–The benefits and possible perils of making robots that look too human or too real (e.g., soldiers don’t want to send their poor robot dogs on that bomb disposal mission).
–People will accept their robot co-workers if the robot has personality, such as if it roots for the same football team, among other familiar traits.
–How teams react to EPA (embodied physical action) robot co-workers, which are appearing in first-responder and advanced surgical operations teams.

He also is an expert on the related topic of autonomous vehicles—in particular, how humans react to them.