MARVIN THE PARANOID ANDROID, the perennially depressed robot from The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, would win a popularity contest against Johnny 5, a futuristic robot made out of old PCB's and bits of bicycle from the film Short Circuit who sported a generally positive outlook on life.
That's the suggestion of researchers at Penn State University, who claim that people find cheerful robots to be just plain creepy, albeit following a not-entirely-scientific study of robot use in a Pennsylvania retirement home by the University's Media Effects Research Lab.
They made a distinction between "assistant" robots intended to help people with everyday tasks, like wiping your backside, perhaps; and "companion" robots, intended to "support people emotionally, serving as friends or pets". But, presumably, with lower vets bills and/or personal problems of their own.
"We were actually surprised to find out that they wanted companion robots to be serious and assistant robots to be playful," said S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications at the University.
He continued: "It's pretty clear from our data that a serious demeanour adds credibility to a companion robot, whereas a playful demeanour softens the tension when interacting with an assistant robot."
Knowing how people might react to a robot's demeanour and role could help designers make robots that people are more likely to accept and use, said Sundar.
"The variations of role and demeanour are shown to indirectly affect robot use intentions, and are therefore important to understand, as more initiatives target senior citizens as a prime user population for social robotics," he said.
The reason for the research, which involved just 51 senior citizens at one Pennsylvania retirement home, is that hospitals and care homes (no doubt looking to save on the cost of minimum wage staff) will likely be early adopters of robotic technology.
The participants were assigned one of four types of robot - a playful (!) assistant robot, a serious assistant robot, a playful companion robot and a serious companion robot. The robots, meanwhile, were four-feet tall and came equipped with one arm, a web camera and a screen. The old dears interacted with the mechanical monstrosities using a smartphone app (presumably running on a Doro smartphone).
"In the future, we might see robots working in the healthcare system to provide senior citizens with physical assistance and emotional support in the comfort of their own homes," said Sundar.
"Therefore, it's becoming more important to understand how we can promote healthy communications between senior citizens and robots."
That's right, who needs family or pets when you can have a 'plastic pal who's fun to be with'TM? µ
"Your plastic pal who's fun to be with" is a trademark of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation
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