How will social robots disrupt the economy

Press release: "May I disturb?": Robots should learn to be sensitive to interpersonal relationships

Robots need basic interaction skills if they are to be helpful to people in the household or in care facilities. For example, they must be able to receive and pass things on safely. "It is not enough for the robot to perceive the object itself, for example with a camera," explains IOSB researcher Dr. Sebastian Robert. "In order to be able to behave in accordance with expectations, that is, to be interpersonal compatible, the robot must also recognize what the human counterpart is paying attention to and understand what it is intending to do," says Robert.

Algorithms for assessing and influencing attention

The three-year ASARob project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with around two million euros, has been dealing with this topic since August 2017. The specific aim of the project is to expand the control software of mobile robots in such a way that they record the state of attention of the other person and, if necessary, can also influence it through appropriate actions. The Care-O-bot 4 ( developed by the Stuttgart Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA and Unity Robotics GmbH serves as a test system for the exemplary implementation of these capabilities. The mobile robot is especially suitable for the interaction with and support of people in everyday environments and can be easily adapted to different tasks due to its modularity (e.g. equipment with or without robot arms).

"We understand attention to be an allocation of consciousness resources to certain environmental perceptions, that is, a mental state," explains Sebastian Robert. »Visual information such as the direction of gaze, head rotation and posture of a person give us information about this.« Verbal utterances could provide additional contextual information. Based on this information, ASARob should be able to assess the state of alertness in the future.

User studies and linguistic dialogue skills

The needs of potential users and the ethical, legal and social (so-called ELSI) aspects raised by the project are researched by the Leipzig Fraunhofer Center for International Management and Knowledge Economy IMW. The Fraunhofer economists ensure market orientation at an early stage and scrutinize economic aspects in the project, such as the value drivers and the willingness to pay of future users.

In order to find out whether the assessment of the state of alertness by the robot corresponds to the facts, bio-signals are recorded and evaluated in user studies. In this way, the researchers can compare the real state of attentiveness with the calculated assessment. The Cognitive Systems Lab CSL at the University of Bremen is responsible for this part of the project.

After the attention assessment, the implementation in appropriate behavior follows. This is also part of the project: in the end, the robot should be able to interact intuitively with people, and in particular to approach older people and support them in everyday life. In addition to gestures, this also includes verbal communication in the form of dialogues. Semvox GmbH will contribute this ability. The geriatric center in Karlsruhe-Rüppurr and the geriatric network in Leipzig are involved in the project as potential users of the robot. In their facilities, relevant requirements for the technology are to be identified, the robot is to be tested in a practical manner in guiding people and when handing out interactive media to residents, and its ability to deal with senior citizens is to be evaluated.

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Fraunhofer IMW can look back on more than ten years of applied socio-economic research and experience in Leipzig. Around 170 scientists from 20 countries support customers and partners from business, industry, politics, research and society in benefiting from globalization and digitization as an engine for innovation. The benefits of socio-economic and applied research for people, the dynamics of a knowledge-based society and the future of industrial production are the focus of the institute's international projects, network activities and analyzes. The interdisciplinary research team accompanies companies, organizations, institutions, states, municipalities and regions in a scientifically sound manner in strategic decision-making processes. Originally founded as the Fraunhofer Center for Central and Eastern Europe MOEZ in 2006, the content and strategic realignment of the DIN EN ISO 9001: 2008 DNV-GL certified institute has been reflected in the new name Fraunhofer Center for International Management and Knowledge Economy IMW since 2016. The institute's competencies are innovation research, knowledge and technology transfer and corporate development in international competition.