The first delivery robots are already roaming cities around the world in various pilots. These platforms boast state-of-the-art (social) navigation for sidewalks, allowing them to follow basic social ‘rules’, such as sticking to the right and waiting for traffic lights.
When introduced to the ‘wild’, people respond to these platforms and their behaviors in diverse ways. While some are just mildly interested, others get scared, and yet others get intrigued enough to tease such robots. This can results in robots in public space effectively being harassed and vandalized. Worse, it can also result in people suffering adverse effects from the presence of such robots – such as when a wheelchair user got stuck thanks to a robot freezing in the curb.
Experimenting in Living Lab setting
What will be needed to make our robots more streetwise? How can we design these robots and their behaviors such that they are at home in our cities? How can we avoid disturbing pedestrians, without making the robot a total push-over? How can such robots add value for companies by fulfilling functions such as food delivery? These are crucial design challenges, that require an appropriate balancing of social, service, and technical needs.
AMS Institute provides an exciting environment to investigate these questions; a living lab environment at Marineterrein Amsterdam Living Lab, the mobile robot platform ‘Husky’, and active connections with companies in Amsterdam. Together with our students, we create prototypes within this context that help us evoke and understand the reactions of people.
“We use an amazingly rich range of behaviors when we interact with each other and robots. We tease, encourage, run, gesture, get scared, and play. Yet, while we ourselves gracefully navigate the social dynamic by flexibly responding to social cues, our robots still struggle to do the same – which justly hampers their acceptance in society.”
Social Interaction Dynamics
Impact for Amsterdam
Our work will generate new insights in the potential of sidewalk robots, and the specific challenges they need to overcome to become embedded in the city. This can be a kick-off point for collaborations with companies interested in deploying such robots. It may also inform policy and practice on how they should share our public spaces with us. So that we can imbue these robots with a better balance between social and societal needs, service opportunities, and technical capacities.