Could you handle having cyborgs as workmates?

Deak Helton and Baxter
A Canterbury University research project into human-robot interaction will try to work out the best way for humans and robots to co-operate at work.

A revolutionary robot called Baxter is the star component of the psychology department study.  Baxter is a humanoid robot designed to work safely and collaboratively with people, the first publically available industrial robot to do so.

Canterbury Professor Deak Helton says the aim of the research is to better understand the impact of this kind of technology on humans.  This arises from the recognition that robots, and in particular humanoid robots, are probably going to be increasingly present in our work-places in the future, he says.

“If robots and people are going to work together in more complex cooperative tasks, it may be necessary to have robots display emotions. But a robot that displays emotions may influence people in unintended ways…A safe human-robot environment is one where misunderstandings between the person and the machine (robot) do not happen often.”

Helton says the future will have robots and they will change society.

“We need to know how to make human-robot interaction safe and enjoyable for people.  If we get this stuff wrong things could go bad, really bad.  Psychology is extremely critical whenever humans and machinery interact.

“Will people view them with trust or distrust?  Will people become excessively attached and addicted to their robots and thus, become disconnected from other people? “  

Baxter, who will be interacting with a number of post-graduate psychology students this year, is different from other industrial robots because it can learn, Helton says. It can even express its confusion when something isn’t right.  He says it can be used for simple industrial jobs such as loading, unloading, sorting, and handling of materials.