For researchers, the fact that robots are becoming more human is a logical development: Humans are the only role model for many activities.
Memories of CeBIT 2016 will definitely include service robots, industrial robots, and transportation systems – these autonomous helpers will be visible in every corner of this year’s IT event. At the Bitkom stand in Hall 4 for example, the start-up TruPhysics is presenting a simulation environment for industrial robots with a robotic gripping arm. The business software specialist abas is bringing a small Transformers-style robot to Hannover that demonstrates how effectively robots can communicate with ERP systems. Magazino, a company with its beginnings at the Munich University of Applied Sciences, is presenting "Toru", a robot that works with humans in an accident-free warehouse environment.
Robots can also be found in Hall 6. Here, ETH Zürich is presenting its "In situ Fabricator" which makes use of technologies in construction: The mobile robotics system brings the potential and performance of digital fabrication right to the construction site. DFKI is displaying its “eyeBots” which solve complex tasks in challenging industrial surroundings. In addition, the Robotics Innovation Center (RIC) at DFKI is exhibiting at CeBIT. The RIC has intelligent solutions for safe human-robot interaction such as in industry or rehabilitation technology. Furthermore, it is developing autonomous underwater vehicles to inspect and manipulate offshore industrial facilities. The RIC robots can also be used to explore and construct infrastructure in space with other robotics systems.
Human-robot interaction is also an important topic at CeBIT 2016. Another trend is humanoid robots. Asian developers are not the only ones working on robots that resemble human beings as closely as possible; German labs are also focusing more and more on developing humanoid-appearing systems.
"The greatest advances in robots always begin with a growing understanding of human characteristics and abilities, such as demonstrated by the issue of responsiveness," explains Prof. Sami Haddadin, the robotics researcher from Hannover. According to Haddadin, in the past few years a rising number of concrete application scenarios for human robots have crystallized, such as teleoperated systems for disasters – like Fukushima – and enabling people with limitations to regain (partial) autonomy. The researcher also believes that using humanoid service robots in human surroundings, in other words everyday situations, is realistic. "Using of tools, or simply moving through an urban environment, such as climbing stairs, are difficulties we need to overcome – and to date our only role model is a human being," says Haddadin.
However, too much resemblance, as initial experiments reveal, make many people uneasy. The reason is that even if facial features appear human, the gestures often do not. "Discrepancies between a robot’s appearance and its behavior are not easy to accept," explains media psychologist Martina Mara from Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz. "If the expectations generated by a highly human visual appearance are suddenly frustrated due to a delayed blink of the eye or a mechanical flinch in the way the robot moves, it can actually horrify us." For this reason, many robots are given no face at all. The Honda "Asimo", a well-known two-legged robot, wears a kind of space helmet with a darkened facial area. Other models have greatly simplified features.
At the CeBIT Preview in January Hannes Sjöblad demonstrated that humans and robots can be drawn together in a different way. According to the Director of the Swedish Bio-Hacking Association, digital implants beneath the skin will ensure that physical objects or passwords will soon become a thing of the past. He himself wears a chip implant in his hand with which he can identify himself and, for instance, open doors. Sjöblad’s message to CeBIT visitors? "Human upgrade technology is coming!"