I recently watched the movie “Robot and Frank”.
Some of the human factors aspects that came to mind when I saw the movie:
- A lot of the fundamental elements that govern human-human interaction, such as trust, dependence, empathy, are applicable even to human-robotic interaction.
- Just like amongst humans, the trust that a human has on a robot evolves gradually through various experiences. In the movie, Frank goes from hating the robot to trusting and liking the robot and even calling the robot his buddy.
Now, what tasks should a personal service robot help the elderly accomplish?
- Support activities of daily living: It is important that robots help the elderly accomplish their day-to-day activities that they cannot carry out on their own, without having to rely on others. For example, in the movie, the robot does all the cooking and cleaning for Frank, which Frank is not good at. He also encourages Frank to exercise and accompanies him on walks. But, it is important to note that the robot only assists Frank in tasks that Frank is not capable to do on his own. This is a crucial thing that designers should keep in mind. Frank, who is a jewel thief, still plans robbery on his own. Encouraging the human to do tasks that they can do on their own (not robbery of course!) is an important element that will help built trust on a robot.
- Help improve cognitive functioning: Aging is accompanied by diminished cognitive functioning. Hence, it is important that the elderly engage in activities that stimulates mental functioning. For example, in the movie, the robot urges Frank to do gardening for Frank’s mental stimulation.
As the story evolves, Frank becomes emotionally attached to the robot and refers to the robot as his friend. As a movie spectator, I have to admit that I also started liking the friendship between the characters, albeit the fact that one character was inanimate.
Now, this leads to the question: How much human characteristics should a personal service robot possess? Certainly, to develop trust in the robot, the robot should promote independence while at the same time provide companionship to the human. The robot should also be designed with some empathy for the user. But how much “human-like traits” should the robot possess? Is too much trust and too much attachment to the robot good for the human?