When People Meet Robots: Tell Us Your Stories of People-Machine Interactions

Have a story or anecdote of interactions between robots and people in public spaces and working places? Tell us about

1 min read

I'm calling for case studies, stories, anecdotes of the interaction between intelligent robots and people in public spaces and working places for a feature page in next quarter's IEEE Robotics and Automation magazine.

Here's why: How many people do you know who treat their PCs like a pet, or fear their laptop will attack them in the night? Now give that laptop its own set of wheels, set a doll on top, and suddenly the story changes: The perceptive area of our brains flashes neon: "Human!"

When computer users encounter a problem with their system, they blame the software provider or the malevolent who sent them a virus. They attribute any intent to the far side of the keyboard, not inside the box.

However, the fact that a laptop can be used to actuate motors and drive around a building on its own may change the perception from a machine controlled by human beings to a machine that is a being itself.

Will that perception evolve over time now that we have commercial robot operating systems like Motivity and hobby systems like SPARK and Mindstorms that let children and computer-literate adults program interactive and intelligently navigating robot applications? Or will motion and a face continue to cause people to treat robots like human beings?

I'm looking for stories about people interacting with real robots, in the workplace, in public or in the classroom, that show how neophytes feel when they first meet robots in the course of their normal daily activities, and, if possible, how those perceptions or interactions change over time.

Please send your contributions to jdietsch [at] mobilerobots.com

Jeanne Dietsch is co-founder and CEO of MobileRobots, based in Amherst, N.H.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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