The Benefits of Human-Scale Robots

Kambria @ www.kambria.io
Oct 17 · 8 min read

In the field of robotics, there are functionally endless possibilities for robot design. Yet many robots tend to fall into a few different categories, with human-scale robots being a common choice. Human-scale robots are approximately the same size, and sometimes the same shape, as humans, and they are some of the most popular robot design templates. Why is this the case? And what benefits do human-scale robots have over robots of other scales? Let’s examine what makes human-scale robots unique and useful.

Different Robot Jobs, Different Robot Sizes

Robots come in all different shapes and sizes, all with different functions. Some of the largest robots are used in the assembly of vehicles, while there are also robots which are the size of a bee used to monitor environmental hazards.

The tasks that a robot is designed to do will shape the size and form of its body. For instance, robots designed for exploring rough terrain may have treads while robots designed for piecing together items in a factory will have arms capable of manipulation.

While not every robot will benefit from being human-sized or shaped, plenty of robots will see genuine benefits from being human-scaled. Human-scale robots have attributes that enable them to interact with humans and human environments more easily than robots of other sizes can.

A human-scale robot’s size means they are often more fit for navigating the human world than smaller or larger robots.

Why Human-Scale Robots?

Human scale robots have a variety of benefits over robots of various sizes and forms. Seeing as they are human-sized, most of the benefits that human-scale robots enjoy relate to the fact that they can mimic aspects of human activities.

As an example, human-scale robots can traverse the world more easily thanks to the fact that they can fit into areas designed for human use. These kinds of human-related aspects enable them to interact with humans and human environment in a simplified, natural way.

In contrast, non-human scale robots can have difficulty navigating the human world in ways that human-scale robots don’t. Consider that a non-human scale robot may be too large to fit through a door, for example. A non-human scale robot may also be too small, constantly a trip hazard to humans in the area or unable to get up a steep incline. Ultimately, designing a human-scale robot means taking into account the world that humans live in and the way they interact with it.

Benefits of Human-Scale Robots

One of the benefits of human-scale robots is best understood through the lens of telepresence robots. Telepresence robots are robots that allow users in remote locations to emulate aspects of being physically present in the location of the robot.

A telepresence robot may have multiple cameras and a digital screen included in the robot, allowing the user to see people and to be seen by people in the robot’s location. A human-scale telepresence robot is the approximate height of a human, and this means that when communicating through a screen with the user, eye contact between people can be better approximated. The Ohmni Supercam robot, for example, includes the highest resolution camera available in a telepresence robot. The 13MP camera sits at the perfect height for standing and seated conversations to facilitate natural interaction.

Humans design the spaces that they live, work, and play in to navigable by humans, so a human-scale robot is able to better traverse spaces that humans inhabit. Assistive robots like Pepper and Romeo benefit from being approximately human-sized, able to easily mesh with human living and workspaces.

The general size of a human scale robot also means they are less likely to be overlooked, stepped on, or to collide with smaller robots. The size of the physical space the human-scale robot enhabits means that people surrounding the robot will take more notice of it, as we are used to looking around for human-sized objects.

Human-scale robots are unlikely to be too tall or too wide to fit through doorways or down hallways. Human scale robots are less likely to cause damage to objects around them compared to larger, wider robots. Human scale robots may also have an easier time traversing inclines and declines built for human use than smaller robots who may not be able to ascend sharp grades.

Human-scale robots can also better manipulate and use objects intended for use by humans. If a robot needs to manipulate human tools, the size of their manipulation devices must already be approximately the size of human hands.

Consider a robot trying to open a door, a robot that is already approximately at the right height, with approximately the right size “hand” will have an easier time opening this door than a robot that is smaller or larger than a human.

The same thing goes for robots attempting to make use of household human objects. If a robot is instructed to bring a human an item, it will have an easier time picking up a pair of shoes with arms and hands that are approximately human-sized. Human-scale robots will be better able to interact with humans and their tools in the environments that people reside in.

Human-scale robots are often capable of negotiating more types of terrain than smaller or larger robots are. The human body is balanced in ways that make it able to ascend stairs and to keep balance on rocky soil.

Human-scale robots like Atlas have an advantage in carrying out similar balancing tasks, with larger robots being more difficult to balance and smaller robots often lacking the range of motion needed to navigate obstacles in the environment.

While there are other ways to enable robots to navigate various terrain types and maintain balance, like a tread system, these systems can make the robot dangerous or difficult to use in populated human environments.

In fact, some robots are used to augment human activity, with the human piloting the robot while inside it. Robot exoskeletons, designed to assist humans in doing dangerous or difficult work, would necessarily need to be at least the size of humans in order to be useful for this purpose.

Preferred by Humans

Another advantage of human-scale robots is that humans seem to prefer interacting with them over robots of different scales and shapes. Humans already endow animals and even inanimate objects with human characteristics, a phenomenon called anthropomorphizing.

This tendency to anthropomorphize occurs even more when the object in question already looks somewhat human. This is particularly true for objects that seem to have faces.

People seem to have a preference for interacting with robots that resemble humans, according to studies comparing people interacting with human-like robots and non-human-like robots.

Multiple studies have suggested that people display a notable preference for robots with faces that can potentially exhibit emotional cues. While robots can be designed with small “faces”, robots of similar size and stature to humans can more easily convey emotions, as their larger size can exhibit more detail.

It’s important to understand how much of communication is non-verbal communication. We communicate information through facial expressions, gestures, and body language.

Robots that do not correspond to the approximate stature of humans may have a more difficult time communicating non-verbally. The subtleties of head movement or gestures could be lost if a robot is too small.

Summing Up

In summary, there are a number of important factors that can give human-scale robots advantages over robots of other sizes and shapes.

When it comes to telepresence robots, human-scale robots can assist in the simulation of eye contact between the remote party and the party on location.

Humanscale robots also frequently have an easier time navigating the human world, as the spaces that humans inhabit are designed for use by human-sized entities. A similar concept applies to the manipulation of human tools and devices.

Human-scale robots may also have an advantage when trying to navigate the world in general, better able to negotiate various types of terrain than some other kinds of robots.

Finally, humans seem to display a preference for interacting with things that share similar features to them. Human-scale robots can share the general size and stature of humans, as well as other attributes like faces.

While certainly not every robot needs to be human-scale, there are advantages to making robots human-scale, and these advantages should be considered when designing a robot.

Ready to purchase your own human scale robot? Head over to the OhmniLabs store: https://store.ohmnilabs.com/.

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This article was originally published by OhmniLabs, a member of the Kambria Manufacturing Alliance. Please follow their blog or Kambria’s Tech articles for more technical content.

OhmniLabs, Inc. is a Silicon Valley-based robotics company focused on providing demand-driven robotics solutions for businesses. Our massive library of tech modules, cloud AI and robotics services, and proprietary ultra-lean development and manufacturing processes allow us to innovate at an unmatched speed, cost, and margin compared to other robotics companies. Founded in 2015 by robotics experts Jared Go, Tingxi Tan, and serial entrepreneur, Thuc Vu, graduates of Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University, OhmniLabs’ purpose is to accelerate robotic development through 3D printing and additive manufacturing. If you have any questions about our project or our team, please feel free to contact us via email at contact@ohmnilabs.com


Originally published at https://kambria.io on October 17, 2019.

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