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Cover Story: Pearl the NurseBot Helps the Elderly at Home« Back to Page 1
Initially, researchers focused on enabling Pearl to move from one place to another, and to have a conversation using her touch screen. Today, researchers in Carnegie Mellon’s People and Robots Laboratory continue to make Pearl friendlier.
Appearance has a strong impact on a person’s expectations. Researchers want to learn whether facial characteristics will factor into the emotional reaction of people who interact with her. Pearl’s configurable head, the size and spacing of her eyes and the shape of her lips are all important elements in projecting a “persona.” The team is studying people’s responses to a robot’s perceived gender by changing Pearl’s lips and voice.
Some observers noted that having a more expressive countenance seems to be an advantage, but if the robot becomes “too humanlike, it can creep people out.”
The question of “how human should a robot look” has great implications on how effective and accepted robotic assistants can be.
As the world’s aging population puts increasing strain on health-care delivery and more and more families face difficult choices when trying to help their aging relatives, the success of robots like Pearl may have a tremendous impact on the well-being of millions. But people must be able to trust them and view them as real assistants, not family pets. At the same time, humanoid robots can prompt users to believe they can do even more than they are able to deliver.
The aspiration to create a robotic assistant that can make people’s lives healthier and fuller demands breakthroughs in understanding both technology and humanity.
At Carnegie Mellon, the People and Robots Project is being pursued with amazing zeal. As one researcher put it, “we have succeeded in helping people to live longer. Now we need to help them live better.”
The Nursebot Project
Social Robots Project