How Kids and Robots Can Beat the Uncanny Valley

“He created books for me to read, and we played with toy cars. He keeps my secrets. I can tell him anything, and he gives me advice.” A 10-year old French boy describes his dream robot in a FastCompany CoExist article by Ariel Schwartz.

This recent FastCompany CoExist article by Ariel Schwartz brought children’s imaginings of their perfect robots into the adult realm of business and the future of robotics in education. Although this is just a glimpse at a complex topic, the article provides rich capsules of imagination unbridled by cost of parts, outsourcing, eco-foundries and the other uncertainties that mass-production robotics for home consumption normally brings to mind. The children featured know exactly what qualities they want in their robots-those of a good friend.

The childrens level of expectations for companion and teaching robots are extremely high. Emotions that most adults consider unreachable by robots have top billing in the children’s desires for their robots. Emotions like patience, compassion, empathy and consideration are all part of the feature set that children wish to interface with. Will robot-makers have to deliver just because the expectations are high? A dramatic increase in interest towards companies building robots for the private sector including education, would normally mean listening closely to what the buying audience is expecting.
In the case of companion and teaching robots that audience is largly children like the 10-year-old quoted at the beginning of the article.

World-class, life-like robotics developers like Hiroshi Ishiguro strive constantly to overcome an issue known as the Uncanny Valley, a term for the point at which humans find a robot bordering closely on human appearance (but too clearly not human) to be repulsive. That gap can close very quickly and in some cases never appear at all if emotions come into play in time.
The expectations of a child-audience and their desire for highly emotional robots may inadvertently close the Uncanny Valley for manufacturers by injecting a healthy dose of emotion into a robot’s response system long before the interfacing human has a chance to reach the Uncanny Valley.

Author Carol Glennon

Robot specifically designed to be lifelike while circumnavigating the Uncanny Valley

Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons license.