The word “trust” pops up a lot in conversations about human-robot interactions. In recent years, it’s crossed an important threshold from the philosophical fodder of sci-fi novels into real-world concern.
Robots have begun to play an increasing role in life and death scenarios, from rescue missions to complex surgical procedures. But the question of trust has largely been a one-way street. Should we trust robots with our lives?
A Tufts University lab is working to turn the notion on its head, asking the perhaps equally important inverse. Should robots trust us?
The Human Robot Interaction Laboratory occupies a minimalist space on the University’s Medford, Massachusetts campus. The walls are white and bare, for reasons, they explain, of optimizing robotic vision. It all feels a touch makeshift, trading solid walls for shower curtains strung from the ceilings with wire.
The team, led by computer science professor Matthias Scheutz, is eager to show off what it’s spent the better part of a decade working on. The demo is equally minimalist in its presentation. Two white Nao robots are motionless, crouched atop a wooden table, facing away from one another.
“Hello Dempster,” a man in a plaid button-down shirt says into a hands-free microphone.
“Hello,” one of the robots answers in a cheery tone.
The man asks the robot to stand. “Okay,” it responds, doing so dutifully.
“Could you please walk forward?”
“Yes,” the robot responds. “But I cannot do that because there is an obstacle ahead. Sorry.”