First developed more than 100,000 years ago, clothing is one of the earliest – and culturally most significant – inventions of mankind, providing wearers not only with protection from the environment and elements but also the meaning of social status, community membership and their role in that group. As robots increasingly move out of labs, remove factory floors, and enter our daily lives, a similar clothing revolution could soon greet us again, according to new research from Cornell University in New York.
“We believe that robot clothing represents an underused opportunity for the field of interactive systems design,” claims the team at , which was submitted to the Conference on Interactive Systems Design 2021. “Clothing can help robots become better robots – helping them to be useful in a new, wider range of contexts or to better adapt and function in the contexts in which they already find themselves.”
“I started by looking at how different materials would move on robots and thinking about the readability of that movement – for example, what the intent of a robot is based on the way materials move on a robot,” Natalie Friedman, a Cornell Tech doctoral student and lead author at work, explained for Engadget. “Since then, I’ve started thinking about all the different social functions that clothing has for humans and how that can affect how a robot is viewed.”
While the robots of tomorrow can wear white shirts with buckles and black bow ties while serving an appetizer to party guests or wearing stripes of candy while working as nurses, it’s not just a matter of throwing human clothes on the robot chassis. “What robot clothes they are is integral to what robots are should of clothes. Robotic clothing should analogously meet the needs that robots have, instead of just being human clothing on a robot, ”the researchers wrote.
Robo-clothing can have any shape, depending on the specific function of the user. Robotic firefighters, like , theoretically heat-resistant coats similar to what humans wear but embedded in thermochromic ink could be issued to provide the robot operator with an easy visual reference to the ambient temperature in the area or to indicate that the robot is at risk of overheating. Conversely, search and rescue bots could wear waterproof clothing when performing ocean operations and then tie themselves to extremely gripping boots when searching for lost hikers in mountainous terrain or survivors of a building collapse.
“I think this work is important to help engineers and technologists understand the functional importance of aesthetics and signaling in design,” Cornell Tech professor and co-author Wendy Ju said in a recent blog post. “It’s not ‘just fashion’ – what the robot wears helps people understand how to communicate with it in ways that are crucial to safety and task execution.”
Overall, the use of interchangeable clothing could lead to a more general robot design, as the specific capabilities that clothing provides do not have to be built into the robot’s construction. “It’s harder to make a new robot than new clothes,” Friedman said. “I think the clothes will affect the design of the robot, and the design of the robot will affect the clothes. It may start in one direction – clothes made to fit robots – but, in the future, I think robots could be made to fit better into clothes. “She notices it though , offers an online store of goods with a wide range of costumes and clothing that the robot will wear, including clothing indicating cultural, national, professional and religious affiliations.
But the clothes on the robots are not only to their advantage, they also serve to demystify and humanize these cutting-edge machines in the eyes of the people they work with. For example, clothing can protect a robot’s sense of shame – or rather, its user’s sense of shame.
“The need for wire modesty – to cover up nudity – stems from anthropomorphic unattractiveness, because robots are not ashamed of the wires protruding from them,” the researchers wrote. “However, both humanoid and non-humanoid robots have pragmatic reasons to maintain a clean and covered aesthetic, because exposed wires pose a real risk to functioning. Any wire that is pulled or cut will remove the power supply or signal of the subsystem, and this can be risky for the robot and all people or objects in the environment. “
“I definitely see a future there [when robots] they don’t wear clothes, it might look a bit ridiculous, ”Friedman added. “I mean, we just map our ideas to robots, don’t we?” Robots have no consciousness, so they don’t feel ashamed. “
However, putting clothes on robots could prove problematic, especially if the style of clothing is culturally appropriated. You can bet your bottom dollar that the first cannabis clinic to dress an automated budtender in Rastafarian clothing will make headlines – and not good ones for business – just like you equipped Roomba with a blanket for Native Americans. “Hawaiian shirts, for example, used to be a sign of“ casual Friday ”office attire, but more recently they have been linked to the extremist“ Boogaloo Boys, ”the researchers wrote.
Despite the potential drawbacks of wearing pants on robots, this could help make the entire research area more attractive to a new generation of robotics. “I like to think of girls from robotics,” Friedman said. “When they’re young, I think robotics works really scary, but I see clothes as a way to greet, you know, stereotypically feminine … skills that women have. I see clothes as a way to welcome girls [robotics]. ”
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