Gabriel is a Professor in Speech Communication and Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. He is also the co-founder and Chief Scientist at Furhat robotics, a company that creates social robots—AI-powered robots that look and communicate like humans. Follow Furhat on Twitter @furhatrobotics.
Autonomous robots have been featured in popular culture for decades, appearing in films from The Iron Giant to Terminator 2. Now, thanks to technological advancements, social robots are a reality—and advanced to the point of being useful.
Furhat Robotics, a company that develops human-like social robots, has disrupted the industry’s traditional focus on mechatronics (how robots move) by instead prioritizing the quality of the interaction with humans.
The “uncanny valley” is a concept that describes a human encounter with a robot or a computer interface that looks real—but not quite real enough.
Often, social robots have a super realistic appearance, so you expect to see the same lifelike accuracy in its microexpressions. But microexpressions are very difficult to achieve, so usually there’s a disconnect. They might, as Gabriel noted: “look stiff and sort of smile in an awkward way.” (Yikes.)
To combat creepiness, Furhat aims to match a robot’s appearance and behavior. Their robots are human-like, but they’re not super realistic. The movement and expressions are sophisticated, but the face is a little cartoonish. The effect is similar to Pixar computer animation.
Furhat is developing social robots to act as service agents in airports and train stations, to address travelers’ questions.
They are also working with a recruitment company to create a robot that can conduct early-stage interviews, the goal being to reduce bias against age, ethnicity, weight and height. Candidates would of course ultimately meet with a human interviewer, but the robot would eliminate the chance someone is filtered out due to bias early on.
Social robots aim to complement human workers, not replace them. In schools, for instance, Furhat could help teachers by facilitating lessons in small groups of students separated by learning style.
The Furhat robot is something you have to see to believe, see it in action on the Furhat YouTube channel, here.