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Would you let a robot look after your child? Cranfield University would like to know

Think of robots and you might think of the bots in the movies, like this dynamic duo from the Star Wars franchise.

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While a future which includes self aware robots serving humans might be a way off - it could be a little closer, if not a little more mundane, than you might think.

Cranfield University reckons the market and development of domestic robots is about to see a dramatic rise. We already have vacuum and mopping robots - but our dependence on machines could increase rapidly over the next few decades.

39.5m
Number of domestic robots expected to be in our homes by 2021 (IFR, 2018)

So the University wants to understand how comfortable people would be with robots performing different roles in their everyday lives. They are carrying out a research project in the hope that it will help robot manufacturers, designers and engineers develop the machines of the future.

Dr Sarah Fletcher, Head of Cranfield University’s Industrial Psychology and Human Factors research group, explained:

“With the increasing ways in which robots and robotic systems are impacting on our everyday lives, it is important that we have ethical standards that are informed by public opinion.

“While some of the scenarios in the survey may seem futuristic and far-fetched, they are potentially just around the corner as we have already seen a rapid rise in robot technology in domestic settings. Who would have thought 10 years ago that a robot could be vacuuming your floor or mowing your lawn?”

– Dr Sarah Fletcher, Head of Cranfield University’s Industrial Psychology and Human Factors research group

Respondents of the survey so far have revealed that people remain sceptical about the roles they would feel comfortable handing over to domestic robots, with more than 60% believing there should be a limit to what a domestic robot should be allowed to do.

M. Osman Tokhi, Professor at London South Bank University and Chair of the Ethics of Robots and Autonomous Systems sub-committee, said: “The robotics technology is advancing at a fast pace and as robots will continue to share the same environment with us in various sectors of life, new challenges and ethical issues are expected to emerge.

“We continue to address these issues and challenges within the robot standardisation work to inform the designers, developers, and users of robots, and the results of the survey will form valuable input to our work.”

The scenarios in the survey cover:

  • Robots used for childcare in the home
  • Surgical robots in a hospital
  • Domestic servant robots in a care home
  • Workplace assistant robots in a factory
  • Robots in a war / conflict zone
  • Companion robots

Robots in childcare have already seen a step forward - see this report from CNBC from 2016.

The findings will help inform the Ethics of Robots and Autonomous Systems Sub-Committee at BSI, when they review the world’s first standard for the ethical design and application of robots and robotic systems; BS 8611:2016.

Nick Fleming, Head of Manufacturing at BSI, said:

“Robots and AI are no longer confined to the pages of science fiction and as they become reality, the ethical boundaries of how we interact with them needs to be defined. This is why we published the world’s first standard on robot ethics, BS 8611, three years ago.

“However, as our lives with robots becomes more intertwined and technology advances, our standards must evolve. The input from this survey will provide invaluable insight into how the public currently feels about robotics and AI as we revise this standard.”

– Nick Fleming, Head of Manufacturing at BSI

And anyone who doubts the rapid pace of change should take a look at the rescue robots struggles from a DARPA contest in 2015...

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To this mean machine developed by Boston Dynamic last year...