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New Study Shows Humans Feel Empathy for Robots

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ThinkStock

The humans on the television show Battlestar Galactica experience conflicting feelings when dealing with the humanoid Cylons. While some find it easy to torture the machines even though they resemble humans, many cringe at the thought of terrorizing the Cylons. It turns out the writers got this right—humans empathize with robots as much as they empathize with other people.

Astrid Rosenthal-von der Pütten, from the University of Duisburg Essen in Germany, began thinking about how humans relate to robots after a discussion about a YouTube video where people destroy a dinosaur robot. While she watched the video she experienced conflicting emotions: The video amused her, but she also felt bad for the dinosaur. She wondered if other people felt this way, too—and decided to do some research to find out.

She and her colleagues conducted two studies. In the first, 40 participants watched videos where a person either acts affectionately to a robot that looks like baby camarasaurus or attacks it. When the person kicked, strangled, punched, or dropped the robot, it cried, choked, or coughed. The researchers monitored the subjects as they watched the videos with a physiological monitoring device, which basically tracks how much someone sweats. The more stressed out we are, the more we sweat. The participants also answered questions about how they felt when they watched the person "hurt" the robot. The subjects sweated more and reported feeling badly about the camarasaurus’ plight.

In the second study, the researchers asked people to watch videos of a robot dinosaur and humans while an fMRI machine imaged the subjects’ brains to see how they processed it. The videos featured a woman or a robot in a positive situation—being stroked or tickled—or a negative one—being beaten and choked. The fMRI scans showed that when people watched robots and humans being abused the brain acted the same, which leads them to conclude that people feel empathy for robots. 

“[W]e did not find large differences in brain activation when comparing the human and robot stimuli. Even though we assumed that the robot stimuli would trigger emotional processing, we expected these processes to be considerably weaker than for human stimuli. It seems that both stimuli undergo the same emotional processing,” writes Rosenthal-von der Pütten.

She will present her findings at the International Communication Association Conference in London this June.

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Wired, YouTube
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technology
Watch This Robot Crack a Safe in 15 Minutes
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Wired, YouTube

When Nathan Seidle was gifted a locked safe with no combination from his wife, he did what any puzzlemaster—or, rather, what any engineer with a specific set of expertise in locks and robotics—would do: He built a robot to crack the safe. Seidle is the founder of SparkFun, an electronics manufacturer based in Denver, and this gift seemed like the perfect opportunity to put his professional knowledge to the test.

The process of building a safecracking robot involved a lot of coding and electronics, but it was the 3D printing, he said, that became the most important piece. Seidle estimated that it would take four months to have the robot test out different combinations, but with one major insight, he was able to shave off the bulk of this time: While taking a closer look at the combination dial indents, he realized that he could figure out the third digit of the combination by locating the skinniest indent. Thanks to this realization, he was soon able to trim down the number of possible combinations from a million to a thousand.

Watch the video from WIRED below to see Seidle's robot in action, which effectively whittled a four-month safecracking project down to an impressive 15-minute job.

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ZMP
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Food
Japan Is Getting Sushi Delivery Robots
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ZMP

Japan, home of robots that feed you tomatoes, check you into your hotel, and act as surrogate children, is about to get a sushi delivery bot.

In August, the Japanese robotics company ZMP and the food delivery service Ride On Express are due to launch CarriRo Delivery, an autonomous sushi delivery robot, according to Fast Company and RocketNews24.

The sushi will come from Ride On Express’s sushi restaurant Gin no Sara and be delivered in the red robot, which looks like a cross between an ice cream cart and one of London’s signature red buses. The CarriRo robot can deliver sushi for up to 60 people and is designed to navigate the city on its own with the help of cameras and sensors.

ZMP has aspirations for the robots outside the culinary sphere. The promotional video shows the robots navigating sidewalks to pick up prescription drugs, household supplies, and more, bringing them to people who order from an app on their phone. It has headlights, so it appears you can order at all hours of the day. The robot can run for up to eight hours at a time and can be controlled remotely.

For now, though, the laws governing autonomous robots roving around public sidewalks aren’t super clear, so the CarriRo’s sushi service is debuting on private land only. That means futuristic sushi parties will be confined to office parks and other areas where it won’t run afoul of the law. (It has a top speed of less than 4 mph, so it can’t exactly run away from the police.)

For select office workers, though, this will bring the convenience of conveyor belt sushi to a whole new level.

[h/t Fast Company]

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