Do robots need clothes? Yes, for form and function

By Adam Conner-Simons | Cornell Chronicle

[EXCERPT] There’s no shortage of people who dress up their babies, bunnies or puppies. But what about robots?

Besides a stray feline Roomba, very few people are investing energy into putting clothes on robots. Cornell and New York University researchers say that now’s the time to think more actively about when, how and why we would dress them, now that robots are likely to be popping up more regularly in our factories, stores, offices and homes.

The team just published a paper that outlines some of the considerations for dressing robots in a way that helps them serve their function.

“Rather than being merely for decoration, clothing can serve a practical purpose and be closely tied to what robots actually need,” says Cornell Tech Ph.D. student Natalie Friedman, co-lead author along with NYU lecturer Kari Love. They presented their work at the virtual Designing Interactive Systems conference in July.

Robots all dressed up
Garments on robots could also serve as a way of providing information about the wearer’s role — for instance, a robot waiter might wear a white shirt with a black bowtie.

“Adding easy-to-read physical elements,” Friedman said, “can make the function of a system clearer and more intuitive for people to interact with.”

Friedman, Love and Wendy Ju, associate professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, co-wrote the paper with Guy Hoffman, associate professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Jenny Sabin, the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Professor in Architecture in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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