Imagine a cardboard version of Pixar’s Wall-e character, but with added über-cute human voice, and you’ve got a fair picture of Boxie, Alexander Reben’s documentary-video-making robot.
“The idea was to create a robot that was interesting enough for people to engage with it and offer to help it, carrying it around and up and down stairs to show it things,” says Reben, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.
To win cooperation from the person in the street, cuteness is Boxie’s stock-in-trade. In addition to being a squat, doe-eyed creature, it is also made of cardboard, a material Reben says people perceive as non-threatening, even friendly.
Chris Melhuish, director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK, says MIT was right to focus on perfecting Boxie’s social acceptability. “As robots become everyday objects in our environment, the way they behave will become increasingly important. Future smart machines will need such social intelligence to interact naturally — utilising appropriate gestures, body pose and non-verbal communication, for instance.”