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Professor Quippy: Scientists look to SF for robot design

Professor QuippyCan science fiction help roboticists create robots that humans are comfortable interacting with?

Initial reports are promising. They have already discovered that most people are not comfortable with automatons constructed of stainless steel in the form of gigantic human skeletons. (The skulls with pointy dental work and red glowing eyes are particularly off-putting, the research shows.)

On the other hand, small robots with large oracular equipment and cute signaling noises (beeps and woops are most popular) seem to be okay.

“It’s surprising how often people make nervous jokes about robots taking over the world. I don’t want to make too much of that, but I think there’s something there,” roboticist Bill Smart told The Skwib. He and literature researcher Lara Bovilsky, both at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, held a workshop on the topic at the RO-MAN conference in Germany.

“People have a theory in their head about how something will behave, and if a robot doesn’t fit with that theory, people get nervous,” he explains. “It’s like standing next to the twitchy guy at the bus stop. He goes against your expectations and you get worried.”

Yes, that’s exactly it! Robots are like the twitchy guy at the bus stop. Except they have powerful hydraulic servo-motors capable of crushing a human skull.

Here are some of the initial findings from their workshop, where participants were asked to describe the robots:

Collection of twitchy robots

You can find more information at the New Scientist. Other robotic research of a humorous kind is available at humor-blogs and alltop.

This re-run was brought to you by Elegant Robot Week


  1. Isn’t the proper word ‘homorobotic’ for C3P0

  2. What about R2D2? He’s cute. Plus, if you open him up there’s a midget inside!

  3. Absolutely. R2D2 is the template for cute robots.

    I suppose you have to be careful about how you open him, though, if you want to actually enjoy that kinder surprise inside!

    –Alex, 5 bleeps for “homorobotic”.

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