Sunday, June 14, 2015

Space Robots as Heroes

The space programs of the past and the space industry of the future is subject to public opinion and support. This was true of the moon shots and it is true of each of Apple’s unveilings. If people don’t care then success is substantially more difficult.

Space Robot Justin
Robots are a great way to explore space. They are cheaper, safer, and faster than humans.  And, as artificial intelligence increases they are becoming as capable as a person. So why risk a life if the job can be done by a machine?

Public relations. A machine does not elicit a response from people that makes them stand and root for it. Curiosity landed and continues to provide amazing images and great information but no one outside of the space community cares. Voyager is now in interstellar space, no one cares. Opportunity  has survived on the red planet for 11 years , no one cares. Sending people to Mars? Great press, though potentially a fraud.

Now certainly humans do need to be in space. Space is there for us, not the machines. But machines are able to blaze trails and provide information in far more effective ways than an astronaut with a wind gauge can. But as entrepreneurs in the space robot business get started how do they work to gain the public support for a Mars rover that is remotely similar to an astronaut?
Star Wars R-Series Robots
For this to occur engineers must become showmen. Think of R2-D2, this space robot is loved by millions even over its anthropomorphic partner because R2 is lovable and has a personality. He is just a can that beeps but everyone connects with him. Space robots must become “hims” instead of “its.”

So when conducting a scientific or exploratory mission how does one make a “him?” Let’s look at another automated space machine that has broken the mold and won the hearts of even average folk, the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble has gained value as much more than a scientific instrument. This is because it acts as an eye to the universe. It has given the world images of the universe in amazing color. It has a name that people can remember. And it has a story which people relate to. It started broken, was fixed, was almost scrapped, but is still going. Hubble is the little engine that could, and it has survived partially through public support.

Robots and probes must become celebrities in order to have a level of public praise similar to an astronaut. The robot needs to have life on display. It needs to have a story that people can tell. The hurtles that that little circuit board overcame. The more that the machine can be personified the better.

Companies in the space robot industry which are just starting out and need to get through a crowdfunding campaign or have investors hear about them before they walk in the door, need to make their robot a person. Give it a twitter account, and Instagram Maybe spend some weight on a couple of eyeballs. Have the people building take a personable selfie with it.

A Space robots shouldn’t be scientific instruments but a friend or adventurer. The humans around the robot can give the robot the life and personality that it needs, but that has to be something that is considered when building it and sending it on its way.

For More information about the reaction of humans to some robots see below:
An Ethological and Emotional Basis for Human-Robot Interaction

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