In early 2020, they finally arrived from China, Arcada's first humanoid robots.
Amy, manufactured by Csjbot, is a service robot, that is, designed to provide service and aid, whereas Alf, manufactured by Qihan, is a Sanbot Elf robot and is more social, interactive and intuitive. Christa Tigerstedt, senior lecturer in Business Administration, heads the learning and development project AFORA – The Humanoid Service Robot Project financed by the trust A.F. Lindstedts och Svenska Handelsinstitutets fond. Tigerstedt’s work is focused on service design and design thinking while Dennis Biström, lecturer in Information Technology, is responsible for technology, coding and application development. Both agree that the humanoid properties make these robots unusual.
– Both Amy and Alf are easy to use – they are not designed for engineers or AI experts. When a customer or client uses a humanoid robot for the first time, no technical expertise should be needed, says Tigerstedt and Biström agrees.
– Both robots have a very user-friendly interface and they are easy to interact with. They recognise faces and react to the touch. Alf also recognises questions and will give instructions in different languages. Depending on application, the properties of the robots can also be enhanced. The humanoid aspect is a key feature in order to bring advanced technology directly to the clients, without requiring them to be technically oriented, says Biström.
The robot Amy is serving.
Tigerstedt hopes that AFORA will help bust myths and spread information about the advantages of robotics.
– Our basic notion about robots is not that they will replace humans – which is a common misunderstanding. We want our students and colleagues at Arcada to learn to manage a technology that already exists and to find new concepts for using it, concepts that are relevant and sustainable for users. By this we mean simply that robots can relieve humans, allowing them to focus on the things they are better at themselves. Our aim is to use robots to re-humanise, not de-humanise, says Tigerstedt.
Biström doesn’t wonder why humanoid robots are gaining in popularity, he wonders why only now?
– An increasing number of our daily chores are automated and performed by machines, washing machines, for instance, or robot vacuum cleaners. We also have smart phones to help with our routines. Even if robots are traditionally viewed as mechanical units, a smart phone also fits the definition of a robot: a unit capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. For the technically less experienced, it is even easier to interact with a humanoid robot than with a smart phone. In addition, robots act in real life, since they are equipped with a physical body. Since they are based on the Android operative system, they can perform what a smart phone can, says Biström.
An abundance of opportunities
Humanoid robots can serve in many areas. Amy, for instance, can be used for customer service work, as a waitress or receptionist in the hospitality sector. Alf, with built-in sensors, can monitor people and help them with social distancing at various events or use his camera to recognise faces and remind people to wear a mask. Healthcare is another sector that may benefit from the use of robots.
– Most people, when they get older, wish to cope at home for as long as possible. Robots may help in extending that independence. We have research that tells us there are times when people prefer not to receive help from another person, for instance in private situations, where they might feel a loss of face. In this kind of situation, some people might prefer being given care instructions by a robot. In care units, a robot can assist both patients and staff, Tigerstedt says.
The robot Alf and Christa Tigerstedt in class.
The coronavirus has created a number of obstacles to the robot project. In order to learn and grasp the technology, humans need to meet the robots, but several campus events with the robots were cancelled. During the year, the robots have nevertheless garnered interest at Arcada. The AFORA project has very clearly shown that the opportunities for interdisciplinary co-operation are considerable.
– The robot project supports the competencies that we, in line with Arcada’s strategy, aim for, such as smart solutions, digitalisation and an interdisciplinary approach. Co-operation between three parties is quite possible, for instance projects combining the technology, healthcare and service sectors. This touches on concept development and service design. The moment you combine technology or coding with any sector, the work becomes interdisciplinary, says Tigerstedt.
– We need to work together. No humanoid robot will be designed by an IT engineer alone, says Biström.