It’s OK if this gives you the creeps
If you think this kind of robot may be taking things a step too far, its creator Dan Chen would be pleased he’s gotten his point across. For starters, this robot isn’t actually being used for the application shown in the video above. In fact, the bed and fluorescent lit room are nothing more than props used to create a hospital-like environment within this interactive installation.
Accompanied by someone dressed as a doctor, viewers of the installation are able to enter the room, one at a time, taking a turn to lie in the hospital bed. At this point, the pseudo-doctor asks for their permission to place their arm under the Last Moment Robot’s mechanical caress. The ¨doctor¨then leaves the room and the robot begins to gently stroke the ¨patient’s¨arm as the LED screen reads ¨end of life detected¨and a soothing script of comforting words ensue.
While the use of robotic pets in hospital care has been shown to help some people cope with stress and isolation, Chen cautions against trying to fool people into a false experience: ¨With my own robots, I use generic patterns of behavior to suggest at our desire for comfort and highlight the human need for intimacy. The design of my robots is honest with its function. Using no fancy adornments, I do not attempt to disguise the robots or portray them as anything but what they are.¨
Chen further states that he thinks his devices could ¨serve as a stepping stone or learning tool to create deeper and more meaningful human to human relationships and build a stronger and more supportive community. Because my robots look more like appliances, the user must jump a mental gap in order to feel intimacy with the device. In the process of making this jump, I want the user to realize that the possibility of a real, deep relationship is not fully reproducible through imagination or even robotics. These are only temporary solutions.¨
Nevertheless, Chen is a robot-lover and while the video above may make some of us feel uncomfortable, he maintains that the idea is not meant to be negative. To explain his point, he includes an excerpt from Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objejects in his recently published Masters thesis: “The idea is not to be negative, but to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about electronic technology and everyday life. This is done by developing alternative and often gently provocative artifacts which set out to engage people through humor, insight, surprise and wonder.”
The interactive installation has been running at the Brown University Science Centre as well as the Rhode Island School for Design. For more information on some of Chen’s fascinating work, check out the thesis he wrote for his Masters in Fine Art in Digital + Media titled: File > Save As > Intimacy which examines the question: what is intimacy without humanity?