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Robots in the Workplace - Essay Example

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Robots in the Workplace The new and rapidly growing field of robotics has long since left the industrial world and is beginning to impinge on the office world. While in such a social environment, robots must be able to play very different roles than simply completing their work as ordered…
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Robots in the Workplace
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Robots in the Workplace The new and rapidly growing field of robotics has long since left the industrial world and is beginning to impinge on the office world. While in such a social environment, robots must be able to play very different roles than simply completing their work as ordered. To discuss this phenomenon, we will first look at some types of robots in development, some future applications of robots, and the issues of the human-robot interface. There are many types of robot currently in development for use in the office workplace. The major categories of this are cleaners, messengers or delivery robots, and social robots. One company is working on designing an industrial cleaning robot, based on the success of the Roomba. One issue with a robot such as this one is that it could replace jobs, albeit low-income ones, as its approximately $50,000 price tag is high but still cheaper than the price of hiring a cleaning service for a year (Asia Pulse News, 2009). Another office robot possibility is the use of a document-delivery robot to be used to aid employees who are mobility-impaired (Asia Pulse News, 2009; Huttenrauch, Green, Norman, Oestreicher, & SeverinsonEklundh, 2004). However, the level of necessity of such a robot is in question, given the level of integration in most offices with other technology that can deliver documents and information between workers, such as email, fax, videoconferencing, and computer touch-screens. A final suggested use of robots in the office workplace is a socialization robot which could be used either as a therapy aid or as a guide for visitor information and the location of workers within the building (Z. Miyashita et al., 2008). Strictly as a socialization robot, the point of such a technology seems minimal. Even between humans, socialization does not occur in an office environment without the background of shared purposefulness. As a therapy bot, an open interaction in the office will be unlikely to help. One robot studied for this purpose approached people as they moved about the office and attempted to start a conversation (Z. Miyashita et al., 2008). This behavior seems improper for a guide or information service, which should provide answers to questions once they have been asked, instead of offering unsolicited conversation. As the technology becomes more refined, there are many possible applications for their use. In the near future, perhaps by the end of this decade, robots could be used in chemistry labs to handle the chemicals that are so volatile as to be dangerous. A well-designed robot would have steadier hands and more controlled movements than a human and could be trusted not to drop or shake the vials. The same applies for a robot that could be used in biohazard applications, such as vaccine research labs that work with highly contagious microbes. A robot contained within a negative-pressure hood could handle the samples without risking infection and without contaminating the rest of the lab, plus they could do it more efficiently than a human in a bulky biohazard suit. Strictly office uses could include a mobile printer or copier that an employee could call to their desk (A Robot in the Office, 2009). Another possibility, though one that is not strictly a robot, is an extrapoloation on the current use of automated phone systems. As they become more and more advanced, perhaps they could replace humans in some sales or service applications. In the long-term, robots would probably be ready for social interactions with the general public, for example assisting nursing staff in hospitals with basic patient care and monitoring vitals. Another possibility is a robot that could work as a tax preparation agent, programmed to ask the relevant questions and fill in the blanks on the correct paperwork. People might be more comfortable having a conversation with a physical being, even a robot, than in filling out the forms using a computer. However, for any of that to become a possibility, the human-robot interface must be improved. According to one study, for a robot to be accepted in a social situation, the robot must be familiar to the users, be appropriate to its surrounding, and play a social role role in the community. For example, some of the reasons users disliked the previously mentioned socialization bot in their office had to do with them not recognizing why they needed a robot to talk to in the office or that the robot tried to start conversations at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places (Z. Miyashita et al., 2008). Even bystanders and others that do not have direct interaction with the robot are still important with regard to the robot's actions (Huttenrauch et al., 2004). One key factor to consider with regard to social robots is that robot cannot be a human, it does not understand human social roles and will always make mistakes of some kind (Z. Miyashita et al., 2008). The best way to deal with this problem is first to be constantly maintaining and changing the robot's interactions with the people around it, and second to accept that people will most likely never mistake the robot for a human and design its interactions to account for that. Robots in a social office situation are a tricky technology at best. They must blend into their environment enough to make them feel comfortable and familiar to the humans in the vincinity, but also be able to perform their function. These functions include such mundane tasks as cleaning or document delivery, or can be as high-level as conversation and providing tours. Future applications of socially placed robots are many and will increase as the technology improves, but a key step towards these applications is to improve the human-robot interface for such technology. Works Cited A Robot in the Office. (2009). . Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUsqPNpttl4&feature=youtube_gdata_player Asia Pulse News. (2009, November 26). FUJI HEAVY ROBOT KEEPS OFFICE BUILDINGS CLEAN. Asia Pulse News, NA. Huttenrauch, H., Green, A., Norman, M., Oestreicher, L., & SeverinsonEklundh, K. (2004). Involving Users in the Design of a Mobile Office Robot. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part C (Applications and Reviews), 34(2), 113-124. doi:10.1109/TSMCC.2004.826281 Miyashita, Z., Shinozawa, K., Miyashita, T., Ishiguro, H., Hagita, N., & Mitsunaga, N. (2008). What makes people accept a robot in a social environment - discussion from six-week study in an office. Office, 22-26. doi:10.1109/IROS.2008.4650785 Read More
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