Despite the sci-fi inspired expectation that we will one day share our homes and workplaces with physical robots, there has been precious little real-life research into human-machine interaction over the long term.\n\nWill our attitudes towards robots over time see them becoming an underclass of subservient slaves (which later revolt) as proposed in I, Robot? Perhaps cohabitation over a long enough period will see humans falling in love with their bots as is the case in Ex Machina?\n \n\nThere have been a small number of studies to date. In one human subjects shared their home with an expressive robotic head \u2013 the EMYS (EMotive headY System) \u2013 programmed with \u2018emotions\u2019 and able to do simple tasks like give weather updates and play music.\n \n\nConsidered a long term study, it lasted only ten days.\n \n\nIn other research participants have interacted with robots over the course of a year or more, but usually during hour long weekly sessions, or have been paired with basic robots like a vacuum cleaning Roomba.\n \n\n\u201cThere are very few social robots that have ever been implemented within a working environment or any environment really so we don\u2019t have long term research data about what happens,\u201d explains ProfessorMari Velonaki, director of UNSW\u2019s Creative Robotics Lab.\n \n\nProf Mari Velonaki and humanoid robot Geminoid F\n\nTo find out, Velonaki, her colleagues and researchers from the Fuji Xerox Research Technology Group are busy building a prototype advanced bot for what will be one of the longest studies of day to day human interaction with a social robot.\n\nThe UNSW lab is now working on the design and \u2018psychological programming\u2019 of the robot, with technical capabilities such as its robo-navigation and artificial intelligence developed by the universities School of Computer Science \n\nThe bot \u2013 a prototype of which is expected to be ready within a year \u2013 will be placed with a group of 15 Fuji Xerox employees at the company\u2019s research and development office in Yokohama, Japan, as part of a three year project.\n \n\nWill the bot end up a valued member of the team, a tired toy or an annoyance?\n \n\n\u201cOur main goal is to make a companion for humanshellip; I think one of the differentiators will be understanding the person\u2019s emotional requirements and acting not in a physical way, but in a subtle way that facilitates positive arousal,\u201d says Dr Roshan Thapliya, research senior manager of the Research and Technology Group at Fuji Xerox. \n\n\u201cWe want to create a heartful robot.\u201d\n \n\nDr Roshan Tapliya. Photo: Quentin Jones\n\nCreative mediator\n\nWhen in situ at Yokohama, the robot will play a number of roles, Thapliya says. \n\n\u201cIf you look at an average office worker at the moment, almost 70 to 80 per cent of their time they are not doing the work they should be doing. They are looking for documents or for the right person to ask about a particular problem. We would like a special type of robot that would fit right into the workplace so that people will not be disturbed by its presence but at the same time help them with their tasks,\u201d he says.\n\nThe bot could act as a \u2018creative mediator\u2019 that interrupts at just the right moment and pairs people to collaborate, Velonaki, who has spent close to 20 years designing and building social robots and interactive art, adds.\n \n\n\u201cIt sounds like an oxymoron, a machine to enhance human interaction, but sometimes you need a system that breaks the monotony. Someone else wants to join a circle because it seems collaborative and the robot can facilitate that,\u201d she says.\n \n\nPage Break\n\nThe robot will need to learn from body language cues if it is a good time to interrupt and if its interruption was welcome. With the help of the 15 employees \u2013 who will dedicate time in their day for training \u2013 the robot will over time refine its behaviours and movements.\n\n\u201cWe have to provide something that can learn and adjust and start recognising people and learn the very basic things about a workspace: how people move, the speed of movement, when it\u2019s a good time to slow down, what\u2019s the acceptable body language, how close do you go, where do you stop,\u201d says Velonaki.\n \n\nThere is an employee wellbeing function being built into the bot as well. It could encourage employees to take a break when tensions run high.\n \n\n\u201cIt's good to have some sort of a break. It\u2019s good to leave a situation when it becomes too hectic and have some sort of pressure valve,\u201d says Velonaki.\n \n\n\u201cWe want a system that is not a threat \u2013 it doesn't monitor your productivity but maybe your well being as a group,\u201d she adds.\n \n\nVelonaki's robotic art installation \u2013 Diamandini \u2013 which exhibited at the VA in London.\n\nSurprise!\n\nA key challenge, given the length of the study, will be the robots need to maintain the interest and acceptance of its flesh and blood colleagues.\n \n\n\u201cFor people to engage with it, it will need to learn and evolve and change. Otherwise it will get boring. And why would people at work spend time and work to teach a robot if they see that there's no progress or they don\u2019t see new patterns and it\u2019s all a bit of a novelty,\u201d says Velonaki.\n \n\nBuilt in will be an element of surprise.\n \n\n\u201cYou want an element of surprise. You don\u2019t want this kind of totally subservient, happy robot. The question is when do you introduce the behavioural element of surprise? You don't want it to be distracting you don't want it to be something that looks like a fault or isn\u2019t appropriate,\u201d she adds.\n\nWhether the study succeeds or fails (\u201ceven if the robot doesn\u2019t coexist successfully we\u2019re still learning\u201d says Velonaki) its findings will be invaluable in designing future bots.\n \n\n\u201cIf they're going to be embedded in different social structures and institutions they have to be able to train and coexist and coexist in an interesting way,\u201d Velonaki adds.\n \n\nThe robot\u2019s design is, Velonaki puts it, \u201cvery different to anything that I've ever designed before\u201d (and there have been some bizarre bots in the past). While its form and features are still under wraps, it is sure to be innovative, which is kind of the point, adds Thapliya.\n \n\n\u201cIf you are really going to create something, you should create something that is really cutting edge. Get to the boundaries and see what it\u2019s like,\u201d he says.