Robots with knives have a lethal strike, study says

German researchers created a collision boundary for a robotic arm, so it would prevent the robot from slashing human flesh. As robots make their way into our homes and workplace, establishing international ethical guidelines seem like they are long overdue.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Soon, we might finally have robots in our house to do our chores for us. This of course would be awesome, as long as the robot doesn't cause any unwanted accidents.

It certainly would be nice if the futuristic robots were roaming around your house, chopping up a home cooked meal with a steak knife - but it would suck if it gashed you in the wrong place.

The robot would need a warning label: Don't get in the way of the knife, this robot can stab you.

Fortunately, German researchers are on the case. After the scientists looked at how the robots can cause injuries, they designed a collision system so the robot would know better than to break human skin.

As you'll see in the video, the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics researchers had robots hold bladed tools such as scissors, kitchen knives, a screwdriver, and a scalpel. The robots were then instructed to hit a piece of silicone and a pig's leg. And sure enough, the researchers found that the robot's jabs could definitely injure someone.

At the end of the video, the collision detection system is turned on. And a brave volunteer puts his arm up for a test and does not get slashed.

Perhaps, putting constraints on robotics like this is one way of giving robots a moral compass. If we are going to live with them and interact with them, it might be good if they played by our ethical rules.

Some even want an international ethics guidelines drafted to dictate how the robots can be used. COSMOS previously reported:

The robotics professor [Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield] also points to the comments of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who predicted that "over the next few years robots may be a pervasive as the PC."

"We were caught off guard by the sudden increase in Internet use and it would not be a good idea to let that happen with robots," Sharkey said. "It is best if we set up some ethical guidelines now before the mass deployment of robots, rather than wait until they are in common use."

Sharkey adds, it's not the robots that scare him. It's the humans that use the robots that frighten him.

And let's not forget that GM and NASA recently unveiledRobonaut 2 (R2), a humanoid robot. GM wants R2 in its manufacturing plants and NASA wants the cool-looking robot to assist in space missions.

Assuming R2 doesn't get hold of any knives, the robot should be able to work with humans. The team would train it like it would any new human employee: It would be given detailed instructions and then left to figure things out on its own.

NASAbrings up a good point:

Eventually, R2 could become such a familiar member of the crew, astronauts will find themselves saying "excuse me" when they bump into the humanoid. But how will R2 respond?

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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