Emerging Technologies

Social robots as novel communication channels in our daily lives

In recent years we have observed the rise of robots being used in health care. Medical robots are a great tool used in surgeries, which can lead to safer and less-invasive surgery and reduced infection rate compared to manual surgery. Next to surgery robots there are robotic protheses available that can track their own position in three-dimensional space and bionic skins that can interface with the nervous system. In addition, there are even robotic exoskeletons that can make paralyzed people walk again. Beyond these medical robotic solutions, there is currently another type of robot that will make an impact in the modern life: social robots.

Social robots, just like other robots, use artificial intelligence (AI) to decide how to react to information from people or their surroundings, received through sensors, such as cameras. The difference with other robots is that a social robot can interact and communicate with humans by following social behaviours. Advances in AI have enabled robot designers to translate these social behaviours into algorithms, making the social robots capable of recognizing voices, facial expressions and emotions. They can interpret the way a person speaks and can respond to the most complex verbal and nonverbal cues that a person gives. The social robots can adapt to a person’s needs by learning from the feedback, rewards or criticisms from the human.

In many ways COVID-19 is already acting as a catalyst for changes that were already on the roll. One of these changes is the emergence of these social robots in care and assisted living homes, which are becoming increasingly important, due to their ability to interact with elderly and other persons that are most vulnerable to infections and viral diseases such as COVID-19. In this way, the robots can also function as companions for such persons when it is not safe for nursing staff to go into their homes, or when nurses are understaffed. In addition, a chatbot nurse can perform triage by asking a person about their symptoms and computing this into a care system.

This is just the start of the rise of social robots. The applicability of social robots is endless in our modern society and we definitely expect to hear more about it in 2021. There are currently excellent funding opportunities for those working in AI research & development.

Learn more about the Eureka Clusters AI Call 2021 grant on our Eureka Network page.

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