Erik Goode, an engineer at an industrial automation company, sees an inexorable movement toward humanoid form-factors.
"People have a strong desire to attach personalities to their environment," he says. "The visual perception of robots will indeed be less HAL-like and more humanoid-like. Depending on the task, robots will have avatars that convey personality, gender, and empathy."
Other respondents disagree. "Useful robots are just an arm or other mechanism with tooling to accomplish a task," says Michael Roberson, an electrical engineer in Nashville. "The Jetsons-style fictional vision is nothing but a novelty item with no real functional use in industry."
Mark Bannan, owner of MBE Automation in Michigan, balances both views. "I have worked on and off with robots for over 30 years in an industrial environment," he says. "All of the robots I have worked with were designed based on functionality and did not look too human. For industrial use, I would expect this trend to continue."
"However, there are robots being designed to assist human beings, particularly in Japan, which has a rapidly aging population," Bannan says. "These new robots will assist the elderly to function, without too much human intervention. This type of robot will need to look as much like a human as possible so that the humans they interact with are not repelled by the sight of them. So in this case it would be form over function."
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