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Research in the social robots field has considerably developed in the last five years. Many computer science laboratories began to investigate the phenomenon of social robot’s behavior. However, human-robot interaction (HRI) is still quite complicated for understanding because the various relations have to be considered to develop the form, functions, and context of robots, as well as their effect on society. Furthermore, several definitions of social robots exist.

Historical Background

The idea of robots appeared hundreds of years ago. However, it was the mere hypothesis of creating the artificial beings that had nothing in common with the idea of modern social robots. First, the robots were described as the autonomous beings that have an ability to move on their own. The term robot was first used in 1921 in R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the Karel Capek’s play (Hegel, Muhl, Wrede, Hielscher-Fastabend, Sagerer, n.d.). The term Robotics appeared even later, in short stories by Asimov in the 1940s (Hegel et al., n.d.).


Due to the progress of technologies in 1950s-1970s, the basis of designing the machines with a more complex behavior was developed. In 1958, the first company for Robotics called Unimation was founded (Hegel et al., n.d.). Moreover, the first Robot called Unimate was used as the assembler in the assembling line of the General Motors. Moreover, at that time, the usage of all robots was narrowed to assembling the specific details on an assembly line. However, the understanding of the historical background of social robots appearance is almost impossible without the understanding the definition of robots notion and its evolution.

Definition of Robots

According to Robot Institute of America (RIA), a robot is a multifunctional, reprogrammable manipulator created to move tools, parts, or other devices using the variety of preprogrammed motions for performing a particular range of tasks. However, there was another definition of robots. Talking about them as everyday objects, according to Kaplan, robots possess three properties. Among them are the following: robots function autonomously; they are physical objects and function in a situated manner. In other words, a robot is an autonomous entity that interacts with the physical environment that influences its behavior. However, according to Hegel et al. (n.d.), the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) separated the definition and essential services of robots into two ways:

  • focusing on task and servicing equipment (repair, cleaning, maintenance);
  • servicing humans (entertainment, personal safeguarding);

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Therefore, the first Service Robot definition appeared. According to it, Service Robot was operating fully or semi-autonomously and performed services that were useful for human or equipment. The important aspect of this definition is that in the performance of its services robot excluded any manufacturing operations. Despite IFR has not focused any attention on the interaction between a robot and a human being,  Service Robots were defined as a programmable and smart tool that can think, sense and enhance human productivity. Therefore, it may be considered as the first step to the idea of Social Robots creation.

Definition of Social Robots

First, social robots were inspired by biology. They were generally used to study the behavior of insects or swarms. However, later, the interaction between a robot and a human was observed. According to such approaches, the social robots were developed to maintain the relations between humans and machines and to support the human-like interaction. Therefore, it may be considered as a main difference between the social and service robots. Talking about the definition of the social robots, four major ones may be observed. Among them are the following.

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The Social Robot

According to Bryan Duffy, the definition of robots was divided into Societal and Social Robots. The major difference was that Social robots were interacting with each other while Societal ones were created to interact with the human beings. Thus, Duffy has presented the social robot that had the architecture based on four main principles (Hegel et al., n.d.):

  1. The robot has a form that is controlled by the primitive motor activities in the environment.
  2. It has the fundamental sensorial reflexes.
  3. BDI (Beliefs-Desires-Intentions) architecture.
  4. The robot must have a social layer that will calculate the communication with others. In that a particular case, it was Teanga, Agent Communicational Language.

Socially Interactive Robots

According to Terry Fong, the social robots are the part of the heterogeneous group (Hegel et al., n.d.). Therefore, they possess histories and are able to recognize each other. Moreover, they can learn from each other. However, they have to possess some particular abilities. Those include:

  • communication with high-level dialogue;
  • feeling and expressing emotions;
  • recognizing other models and learning from them;
  • establishing and maintaining social relationships;
  • developing social competencies.

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The Sociable Robot

According to Cynthia Breazeal, the sociable robot is not only able to communicate with humans, but it also can understand and relate to humans in a personal way. Moreover, it has to be able to understand itself and humans in the social terms. On the other hand, human-beings have to understand robots in the same way. Furthermore, the sociable robot has to be able to learn through its lifetime and to adapt according to the environment. Moreover, it has to share its experience with other individuals. According to Breazeal the sociable robot has to possess the following abilities:

  • a robot has to possess lifelike qualities;
  • a sociable robot has to identify persons, for instance, who the person is, what that person is doing, and, moreover, how that person is doing it;
  • the ability to understand the human’s needs, mimic, expressions;
  • a robot has to be able to learn from the social situations that may alter its personal history by mimicry or imitation;

In other words, the perfect sociable robot model by Breazeal behaves like a human.

Design-Centered Approach

According to Christoph Bartneck and Jodi Forlizzi, a social robot is a semi-autonomous or autonomous robot that can interact with humans following the norms of behavior that are expected from it by the people with whom this robot is communicating (Hegel et al., n.d.). Moreover, Bartneck and Forlizzi underline the following three important conditions of the social robot:

  • it has to recognize human roles, values, etc.;
  • it has to be autonomous;
  • it has to be able to interact non-cooperatively or cooperatively;

Moreover, Bartneck and Forlizzi described the five main parameters of the social robot. Among them were the following:

  • unimodal to multimodal communication channels;
  • knowledge about social norms;
  • biomorphic, abstract, or anthropomorphic form;
  • casual to non-casual interactivity;
  • a degree of autonomy.

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A Possible Impact of Social Robots

It is still hard to give a clear-cut answer how the social robots will impact the modern life of the people and the technology trends even in a seeable future. However, it is obvious that if highly intelligent social robots will appear, their impact will be considerable. Furthermore, the fields of usage of such robots are almost unlimited. For instance, they may be used for taking care of children or elderly, especially when some highly-developed countries, like Japan, are working on it. However, there appears a fair question, how will we be able to evaluate the robot’s ability to do such complicated work as taking care of children? The other question is how the children will behave after spending a lot of their time with humanoid robots? Unfortunately, it is quite hard to make any predictions about the appearance and spreading of the social robots. Nevertheless, it is obvious that it will make a great impact on human everyday life, no matter if it is positive or negative.

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Conclusions

The idea of creating a robot appeared almost a hundred years ago. However, the term Social Robot is not old. It gained a wide popularity among the computer science laboratories during the last five years. Nowadays, a few major definitions of the social robot exist. All of them are similar in some aspects but also have some differences. Moreover, the social robots are still in the process of development, and their possible impact on the everyday life of humans is unpredictable.