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Should Robots Look Like People or Machines?

The Sandstorm vehicle combined GPS sensors with lasers to "see"" the road ahead of it.
(Source: Carnegie Mellon University)"

Are you ready to Roomba? If you're a fan of nondescript, purpose-built robots -- this one vacuums your floors -- you probably are. But perhaps you're intrigued, as I am, by the unusually anthropomorphic automatons coming out of Japan.

The differences raise a question: Should robots look more like people or like machines? That's what we asked participants in our Systems & Product Design Engineering and Automation & Control Engineering groups on LinkedIn.

Many of the answers revolved around the form-versus-function issue. "This question is deeper than it seems at first glance," says Rick Rice, an applications engineer in Illinois. "It really comes down to philosophy. Robots are designed to do things that humans can't do, or robots can do better. This doesn't necessarily mean they have to emulate humans. However, the people that program robots will tend to duplicate human actions because, after all, we are humans programming machines."

Click on the image below to start the Design News slideshow: Humanoid Robots Get Real:

"Popular movies like I, Robot, portray robots as virtually human in appearance, and they even possess human characteristics like a conscience and a sense of right and wrong. The bottom line is, do we want robots to be assimilated into our culture so much that we don't recognize them at first glance?," Rice asks.

Alan Curley, an automation and control engineer in Ireland, says, "I think the consensus is that function should dictate form, which should not directly lead to a humanoid robot."

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