September 24, 2013
Researchers at the University of Washington have found that soldiers are developing emotional relationships with their robotic counterparts and these attachments are interfering with the outcome of missions.
Twenty-three explosive ordinance personnel were questioned from all branches of the US Armed Forces; including chemical, biological, radiological, roadside bombs and nuclear weaponry.
Because soldiers rely on robots to detect, inspect and disarm explosives, these soldiers are developing emotional attachments to them.
Julie Carpenter, lead researcher, explained that during interviews “troops’ relationships with robots evolved with their technology, and that while soldiers denied emotion ever affected performance, they admitted feeling a range of emotions when their field robot was destroyed, including anger and sadness.”
Carpenter continued: “They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add ‘poor little guy,’ or they’d say they had a funeral for it.”
Mentally, soldiers view robots as an extension of themselves “with some saying they knew who was controlling it based on how it moved. In some cases soldiers even reported feeling as though the robots’ technical or mechanical limitations reflected badly on them as a person.”
Carpenter’s findings mirror the phenomenon of emotional attachment theory (EAT) which states that humans form strong bonds with inanimate objects such as a smartphone or a stuffed animal.
Carpenter recorded instances of EAT as described by soldiers; even to the extent of soldiers taking “their robots fishing with them and let them hold the pole.”
Even though the soldiers knew intellectually that these robots were tools, there were clear patterns in the soldier’s speech that indicated that “they sometimes interacted with the robots in ways similar to a human or pet.”
A soldier relayed a personal story about a “near-death experience” of a robot: “While clearing an IED on a bridge, my Talon decided to make left face and head directly for the only gap in the guard rail on the entire bridge. My team member started screaming that he had lost comms with the bot and was frantically powering down the system in an attempt to stop the bot from plunging in to the Tigris. The bot stopped with about 25-35% of its length hanging over the river, and the only thing keeping it from going over was the weight of the water bottle charge it was holding in its gripper.”
Future endeavors into artificial intelligence (AI) are pointing to the development of machines that can think for themselves and comprehend social situations.
To understand the brain, how it functions, how the neuro-network connects, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has brought together researchers and scientists from the Rockefeller University and Stanford University will assist in creating a human brain blueprint and co-chair the governmental council that oversees the entire project.
Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH said that BRAIN would have “practical applications across a variety of neurological illnesses and injuries: autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.”
Advances into autonomous robotic technology has produced Atlas, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) humanoid robot that stands over 6 feet tall and weighs 290 pounds, being called “one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built.”
Atlas was created by Boston Dynamics, INC, (BD) with funding from DARPA.
This robot “is a high mobility, humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain. Atlas can walk bipedally leaving the upper limbs free to lift, carry, and manipulate the environment. In extremely challenging terrain, Atlas is strong and coordinated enough to climb using hands and feet, to pick its way through congested spaces.”
Built like a human, Atlas has “sensate hands will enable Atlas to use tools designed for human use. Atlas includes 28 hydraulically-actuated degrees of freedom, two hands, arms, legs, feet and a torso. An articulated sensor head includes stereo cameras and a laser range finder. Atlas is powered from an off-board, electric power supply via a flexible tether.”
The simulated Atlas robot will be used by those teams of researchers to complete tasks during simulated disaster situations that would be hazardous for humans to enter to rescue victims.
To make the situational environment realistic, DARPA will limited communications and vision between the remotely controlled robot and the teams to reflect how responders would have to navigate through real disasters.
The Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) provided simulator software for the teams.
Brian Gerkey, chief executive officer for OSRF said: “If you come up with a winning solution for [the simulation], then the software that you’ve written for it should, for the most part, transfer to a physical robot in a physical environment and produce qualitatively the same results.”