Computer scientists from the University of Glasgow who took the robot to Ayyampathy in southern India, say robotics could empower women who do much of the manual work especially carrying heavy water containers over long distances.
The four-wheeled robot from Clearpath Robotics, known as a ‘Husky’, carried 20 litres of water and had a male “voice”.
Once the volunteers decanted the water into their storage containers at home, the robot thanked them and reminded them to wash their hands before their next meal.
More than half of India’s population have no access to home tap water , and draw it from a well.
The robot’s motion and speech were controlled by researchers via remote control.
Dr Amol Deshmukh, a research associate at the university’s school of computing, said: “Most of the research on human-robot interactions are carried out in lab environments in urban settings, with people who have developed some conception of what robots are and how they work by seeing depictions in TV and film.
“We wanted to see how people from considerably more remote rural populations would view robots, which have a lot of labour-saving potential. “Robot helpers are also ideally-placed to help those population reach the UN’s sustainable development goals of bridging the digital divide and opening up beneficial technology to people around the world, so it’s vital to explore how they are likely to be perceived in the developing world.”
Dr Deshmukh added: “Every one of them said the robot made their lives easier, and they unanimously reported that they enjoyed working with the robot.
“Interestingly, they were also unanimous on the robot being ‘alive’, despite being aware that it was being controlled remotely.
“We also asked if they thought the robot had a gender. More than a third of participants perceived it as ‘female’.
The research was funded by Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance and Amrita University, Kerala, India.
Researchers from Amrita University’s robotics and women empowerment research centre spend time with rural and tribal communities to understand their issues and nuances not often considered in technology design for such residents.