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Too Cute For Their Own Good, Robots Get Self-Defense Instincts

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Children approach a K5 robot assigned to security patrol at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, CA.

Robot designers have learned if they make their robots seem too friendly, or too meek, there may be unintended consequences.

Credit: Georgia Wells/The Wall Street Journal

Robot designers are developing robots that appear non-threatening, but can take action when humans attracted to their cuteness interfere with the performance of their functions, such as guarding or patrolling a location.

When one such machine, the egg-shaped K5 from Knightscope, is cornered by curious crowds, it stops moving until they lose interest and walk away, or emits a shriek when they become too intrusive. The face of the K5 incorporates security-patrol operations such as surveillance cameras, thermal and ultrasonic sensors, and a navigation laser.

The creation of robots such as the K5 is patterned on tests conducted to document the conditions of robot abuse in places such as Osaka, Japan, where a machine designed to help seniors buy groceries was frequently targeted and damaged by children, despite vocalized cries for help. In another case, a hitchhiking robot with a friendly face deployed along roads to test human dependence was found destroyed in Philadelphia last summer.

Designers say they are attempting to create more approachable robots partly to counter the prevailing view of destructive machines presented by movies. "Because of all the doomsday scenarios people imagine with robots, their makers have to insert some cuteness," says Google's Golden Krishna.

From The Wall Street Journal
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