Stop me if this sounds familiar: You're at a party full of people you only sorta like and they're talking your ear off. It's all getting to be a bit much, and you just wish you could escape into a personal black box that lets you interact with the world through a vid-screen that turns people into cartoon avatars.
Right? Tell me about it.
Thankfully, researchers at Gifu University in Japan have built a "mobile personal space" robot to reduce anxiety arising from social interactions. According to the researchers' abstract, the robot is made up of four black walls on wheels and uses computer vision to move with the person inside it. Cameras and video screens mounted on the outside and inside of the box will let the person inside communicate with people (the current prototype only has a screen on the inside).
According to a paper describing the work (translated from Japanese), the system also transforms people on the outside into cartoon avatars. This, the authors write, could help reduce social anxiety related to maintaining eye contact.
A university photo of the system shows the person inside the box talking to an anime avatar, so we can only assume that this is basically a tool for turning any social gathering into the analogous experience of sitting at home watching Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The folks over at IEEE Spectrum caught up with the robot's creators at the 2017 IROS conference for robotics in Vancouver and got the scoop on how test subjects have responded so far. The results were "not good," and test subjects reported feeling confined and afraid of the person they were interacting with.
So much for our golden future walking the streets encased in personal "stay the fuck away from me" bots.
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