We are getting used to seeing sleek, industrial robots. (I’m looking at you Air NZ). And previously I’ve noted some animal-inspired machines. From these and other technological developments we can tend to expect the future to be shiny, hard-edged and efficient.
A different approach is being explored with “Blossom” (and others), a DIY soft robot intended for social situations, such as helping autistic children.
An interview with one of it’s designers on IEEE Spectrum is an interesting read.
It is intentionally quirky, imperfect and customisable, to elicit social connection. Soft robots can’t do many of the tasks that more typical robots can do, but as with creating more organic cities they are an important signal that harsh industrialised sci-fi visions won’t necessarily be reality.
As Michael Winikoff wrote, developing trust of autonomous systems usually goes beyond how well they perform their tasks. Robots like “Blossom” can help build that trust (not just for “Blossom”, but other robots and automated systems in general).
But function matters as well as form. Crafty bots could easily become just toys if the focus isn’t kept on designing them to do important tasks.
We are seeing great diversity emerging in robots, but we also need to see similar diversity in those creating them so that they can better meet the needs of all.
Featured image: Michael Suguitan