Sometimes, in the course of crafting a story for you, our fine readers, I have to scribble things down on a notepad. “Check spelling of botryococcus ;” “Confirm if Bulbasaur eventually gains the ability to shoot poison;” “Find photo of Sir Mix-a-Lot .” You know, the sort of memos you’d naturally expect to find in the workplace of a Pulitzer hopeful.
Unfortunately, the nearest trash can is several steps away from my desk, and I’m not a good enough basketball player to make the shot. As the day goes on, the mound of crumpled up papers next to my chair grows and grows.
If only our office had one of these new robot trashcans that can detect trash on the floor, then walk over to where it is.
Researchers at the ICD (Interaction and Communication Design) Lab at Aichi Prefecture’s Toyohashi University of Technology recently unveiled their Sociable Trash Box robot. Just as the name implies, it’s a robotic garbage receptacle designed to create cheerful interactions with the human beings around it.
But before you start dreaming of a future where your mechanized servants will clean your home while you sleep, take note that the Sociable Trash Box can’t actually pick up trash by itself. Instead, by utilizing its onboard camera and network of sensors, it searches for a location with trash on the ground and people nearby.
▼ Don’t laugh at the video’s clunky translations. They’re engineers, not linguists.
Once it’s found such a spot, the Sociable Trash Box waddles over. Since it’s not equipped with any sort of arm or brush to insert the trash itself, the robot starts to twist, bow, and make noises to catch the attention of the person, who will then ostensibly pick up the trash and place it inside the receptacle.
Similarly, the Sociable Trash Box lacks any sort of function for sorting burnable trash and recyclables, as must be done in Japan. This task, too, is left to its human collaborators, with a team of machines necessary for a comprehensive waste management system.
But while someone needing you to complete their purpose in life is flattering to hear from a lover, it’s uncommon to create robots with such dependencies. So where did the inspiration for this unique design choice come from?
Babies, according to the head of the design team. Since their bodies and minds are still developing, infants are incapable of directly doing anything for themselves. Even still, by squirming, cooing, and grumbling, they can communicate with older children and adults around them, who then feed, burp, or change them as the situation requires.
The developers of the Sociable Trash Box, inspired by these concepts of “communication born out of inability” and “individuals living cooperatively,” decided to create a robot that can’t do something by itself, yet through simple communication cues can get others to do those things for it.
▼ No word as to whether or not early prototypes of the Sociable Trash Box leaked poo on the carpet if they were ignored for too long.
As with all developments in the field of robotics, there are two questions of paramount importance that must be asked. What is the probability of a robot uprising by the Sociable Trash Boxes, and how difficult would it be to suppress?
Their purported ability to communicate with each other gives us some concern.
Thankfully though, the very end of the video also shows one of the Sociable Trash Boxes being easily toppled by a small boy, so we think we’ll be safe.
Wait a second, the Sociable Trash Boxes are filled with trash, right? And the only way to defeat them is to tip them over? There’ll be trash everywhere!
My God, what have we done?
▼ “Fools! You’ve played right into our hands!”
Sources: Gizmondo , ICD Lab