next newsletter preview the future of robotsThe recent report titled “Application of novel industrial scale robot automation in elderly care” from VTT Finland raised a lot of discussions in the robotics for elderly care domain. MARIO being an EU funded project on robots for care of persons with dementia is obviously one of the interested stakeholders that should pay attention to it and take its conclusions into account. In our next newsletter we will accommodate an interview with Dr Marketta Niemelä Project Manager of the ROSE project and Dr Hannu Lehtinen, author of the aforementioned report that covers a lot of interesting suvjects on the future of robotics. As an appetizer we are publishing today a short extract of the full interview.

Question: As children, did you have any special affection for robots? Did they inspire you? Or you were ‘cool’ and distantiated from all the emotional aspects of humanoid robots?
- Marketta: I did not fancy robots as a child in any special way. But I recall that when I was around 10 years old, my father brought a computer from his workplace to home for us kids to play games -  it was the first computer I ever saw. I was totally fascinated about it, not just playing but understanding how it works. Much later I studied computer science and psychology and finally ended up to study robots. Now I have a daughter who is 10 years old, and she asks me to bring a robot from work to home, so she can play with it…
- Hannu: The humanoid robot Little Helper of Gyro Gearloose (a Disney character) attracted me to robotics well before 1975 – the year to plan my education. Amazing on-line control was done at those days at the Helsinki University of Technology – now named Aalto University - via cassette reader interface of an ASEA robot. That got me to mainly focus my studies on robotics. Humanoid robots are typically not economically feasible, because they are competing with us – humans. We have sensing, intelligence and motion skills that are very expensive to duplicate in robots.

Question: In human behavior we tend in many cases to break the rules that are forced due to human nature (i.e. eating ice cream while having diabetes). How would you envision robots handling such deviations? Being too strict? Being a bit lenient or even ‘covering up’ a person’s deviation by not reporting fully his/her behavior to doctors and caregivers? So, what would their mission be? (helping us never die, helping us die as late as possible or helping us to increase our happiness levels) Would this choice of robot behavior affect acceptability and take up from elderly and the rest of society as well?
- Marketta: The human should decide her or his behaviour, and also how much to listen to the robot’s advice. I don’t think people would like to live with robots that try to be bossy and define how to live. But if the robot is more like an adviser, motivator, or even in the role of a mentor, the good advice would be accepted. That requires building the social relationship and bonding with the robot, maybe a specific kind of emotional trust to the robot.
- Hannu: Robots should act as physicians do. Ice cream is OK if insulin and glucose levels in blood are and remain within the specified limits. We are close to automatic insulin measurements and injection. For example, sports activities in the person's calendar may also modify insulin dosing or advise to take suitable dietary snack. To improve our happiness level would be a clear task for robots. Novels and the Three Laws of Robotics by Isaac Asimov are a good introduction to robot ethics and to the complexity of the matter.

Hannu LehtinenHannu Lehtinen studied electrical and control engineering and robotics for his Master’s Thesis on robotic welding made in 1983 at the Helsinki Univ. of Technology (now the Aalto Univ.) He visited at ASEA Robotics AB in Sweden for 3 years from 1985 programming robot operative systems but otherwise developed robot and automation applications at VTT from 1983 to 2010. Principal topics were industrial robot applications, walking machine and autonomous vehicles. The topic of the Doctor’s Thesis in 1994 was force control of a walking machine. Lehtinen has been a technology, patent and market analyst at VTT from 2010. Lehtinen has also been a co-owner for a Michelin rated restaurant for 6 years.

Marketta NiemelaDr. Marketta Niemelä is a Senior Scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Currently at VTT she is leading the research topic of Human-Robot Interaction for service, social and care purposes, consisting of three large-scale national/international collaborative projects. Her particular interest is in the acceptability of robots in the society. She is educated in psychology (Ps.M.) and had her doctoral dissertation (2003) of Human-Computer Interaction in information systems and computer science.

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