WHEN ROBOTS ARE ENDANGERED – TECHNOLOGY/AI

A lot of work is being done, currently, to perfect the use and service of food delivery robots.

Kiwi Campus, which is developing robots at UC, Berkeley, has built “human perception” into its designs, with a digital face display that can offer winks and other expressions.  This display can come in handy when a robot, out on a food delivery call, gets in trouble.  Recently, one of the bots was following directions to a delivery location and found that there were a series of steps to climb.  Robots, to date, don’t do stairs, so it attempted to back up to turn around and got stuck in a flower bed.  Fortunately, a student on the Berkeley campus, seeing the robot’s dilemma, took pity and lifted it back onto the sidewalk.  In return, the robot flashed “heart eyes” at her on its digital display as it rolled along on another route.  To date, the autonomous technology for both robots and driverless cars is imperfect, often resulting in a comedy of errors as there’s no one protecting them once they’re on a food delivery mission.  Fortunately, they’ve become part of the campus culture on the Berkeley campus and rely, when necessary, on the assistance of the students when they become “endangered.”  To foster this kind of acceptance, such actions as dressing the robots in costumes for their Halloween deliveries has furthered their endearment to the students.  Starship Technologies, a San Francisco-based company, has a project involving more than 50 food delivery bots ongoing in Milton Keynes, England since last October.  In that city, neighbors post “bots in distress” notices on the community’s social media pages.  There have been times when residents have defended the bots against attacks by bullies who find it amusing to tip them over.  And when a couple of bots got stuck in the snow, the community rallied.  “The children love them,” they say.  Starship, which was founded in 2014, introduced another 25 wheeled robots for use on the campus of George Mason University in January, 2019.  Students observed with amusement when four of the bots came face-to-face accidentally – apparently there were no directions included as to who had the right of way.  Robot makers see the need for winning over the love and approval from local pedestrians as well as local officials as a first requirement to using the robots in a given location.  Company researchers at Starship have staged stuck robots in public places then hidden in nearby buildings to see if anyone assisted the robots. They found that people helped out more often when the bots emitted audible signals for help.  Thus, after trying out different voices, they settled on a human-sounding voice for their current model.  Robby Technologies is a Silicon Valley start-up that is testing out its bots on the University of Pacific campus in Stockton.  The robots are built to resemble a small pet walking down the street and contain enhanced “human robot interaction” so that they can say “excuse me” and “thank you.”  Agility Robots is building a walking delivery robot, resembling a human, that can handle stairs.  Most current delivery robots remain some version of the rolling bread box.  Once the delivery robots are perfected, they are expected to offer far less costly ways to deliver food.

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