The Kibo space robot, pictured here, might be one of those setting the trend towards the future of cuteness in robotics

The cute future of robotics

A successful robot in the not so distant future will have to be more than functional. Its cuteness might be the critical factor for it to succeed in the market, a London based expert said.

Citing the Japanese culture of cuteness as one of the major drivers for the ‘cute robotics’,  Robert M Wanzel said that the robot’s expression and emotionality is fundamental to facilitate the Human-Robot interaction. If robots become more emotional in both – their appearance and behaviour, people will be able to establish a better connection with them.

“It is important for personal robots that they will be loved like companions comparable to cats and dogs”, Wenzel said. The genuine relationship between a person and his or her robot is critical for the emerging trend in robotics – the so called supportive robots that are cooperating and assisting with various tasks.

Those systems require continuous communication with humans and have to deal with the emotions of their owners in both sending and receiving them. Here, a pure functional design will not be enough to serve the purpose. “Such systems have to be ‘lovable’ in appearance and interaction”, Wenzel said.

According to a study published in 2012 by Hiroshima University, looking at cute images can enhance concentration and even promote more careful behaviour. A robot that would be unpleasant to look at might in fact face difficulties in fulfilling its task.

“Twenty years ago a purely functional design would have been enough but today the tastes of the audience need to be taken into account, especially in the personal robots market”, Wanzel said.

For some traditionally successful robot designers, the current shift might be difficult to accept.

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