Social Robotics in the United Arab Emirates

So last week, my husband, the little one and I spent some time in the desert. More precisely in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain). I attended the 3rd Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics as invited speaker (

The Emirates itself were an amazing experience. Visiting a university that has a female and male campus and the lecture room a female and male entrance was a very new experience for me. In general culturally the emirates and their short history as a nation were more than fascinating for me (my sociological roots came through again making me curious on the societal developments of this culture…I could spend days reading up on it and watching documentaries).


Besides the fact that all the sunshine and the warm temperatures were more than healthy for my body and soul, the symposium was really interesting  and offered an open floor for discussion on social robotics. My talk was entitled: Sociability vs Utility – Where are we heading in Social Robotics? Here is the abstract:

My talk will focus around a question that is recently more and more present in my head: What are actual useful tasks for Social Robots in future? I will present an overview on my 10 years of research on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). Being a sociologist in training, I have started my work in HRI in trying to define from a sociological perspective, if robots can be social by definition. I will explain to what degree robots can fulfil the sociological criteria of “social”, namely forms of grouping, binding, mutuality, and reflexivity. I will continue with the presentation of use cases for Social Robotics in projects I was involved and will reflect on the usefulness of the robot’s task in relation to the focus on social cues for intuitive and natural interaction. I will present selected studies of the FP7 EU project “The Interactive Urban Robot (IURO)” and FP7 EU project “HOBBIT – The mutual care robot. The goal of IURO was to find the way to a designated place in town without any previous map knowledge, just by retrieving information from asking pedestrians for directions. The goal of the Hobbit robot was to enable older people to stay longer in their homes, following three main criteria: (1) Emergency detection and handling, (2) fall prevention, (3) providing a “feeling of being safe and supported”. Reflecting on these exemplary studies will lead to the ethical implications of Social Robot design, especially the potential risks involved when designing robots that show “artificial attachment”. I will present the Triple-A Model for ethical risk identification including a first taxonomy we developed in order to classify existing Social Robotics use cases. My talk will close with a discussion on how the utility of a robot and its sociability interrelate and on future application areas for Social Robots. This will involve thoughts on (1) how technology determinism shapes our use cases for Social Robotics, (2) why sociability is not self-sufficient for a robot to be accepted and sustainably used, and (3) how we can take a step back and think a bit more out of the box what reasonable useful jobs Social Robots could do for us in future, going beyond the multi-functional housekeeper scenario.