"You don't want someone to hesitate using one of these robots if they have feelings toward the robot that goes beyond a tool... If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision making." Julie Carpenter, University of Washington Researcher, cnet News
iRobot's Packbot bomb disposal robot was one identified in Carpenter's research as the object of soldiers' emotional attachment. They regarded their Packbot as something of a 'pet'.
|Marine deploying a MARCbot defusal device in Iraq, 2005. From The Atlantic article "Funerals for Fallen Robots."|
Humans have been shown to form emotional bonds with inanimate objects and technology in a variety of ways. Children exhibit these behaviors frequently, as they form emotional attachments to blankets, dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys. Adults also form emotional bonds to a host of technologies, giving pet names to cars, ships, musical instruments, guns, and other tools and vehicles on which they rely. We can even form emotional bonds with digital pets and characters inside of video games, and experience sadness and frustration when breaking a cherished phone or electronic device. There is even a rare sexual fetish called agalmatophilia, in which people become romantically attached to human-shaped statues and life-sized dolls. For the majority of people, the emotional bonds we form with inanimate objects are not the same as those we would feel for a living creature, but these bonds can have a significant impact on our lives. It is with this in mind that we must review Julie Carpenter's research on soldiers' formed attachments to small battlefield robots like the Packbot.
|Can we understand a soldier's attachment to a bomb-defusing UGV by looking at our own attachments to inanimate objects and virtual creatures such as the Weighted Companion Cube (above)?|
The similarities between Portal's Weighted Companion Cube and a bomb-defusing UGV are obviously separated by the fact that the UGV saves real lives while the Cube helps players beat a video game, yet they both provide the user with a certain feeling of ownership that extends beyond their material being. Carpenter's research showed that soldiers would anthropomorphize the UGVs and view them as kinds of 'pets' for which they must care and protect. There are a wide variety of technological pets with which people form real bonds, and they sell in large quantities. The vast sales figures of these games would indicate that man's ability to emotionally bond with 'theoretical pets' has already been identified by major figures in the technology industry.
|Nintendogs, a handheld dog simulator for the Nintendo DS Handheld electronics system, has sold over 23 million copies worldwide. This puts it in the second best-selling DS game of all time, just behind New Super Mario Bros.|
|Aibo was a brand of robotic dog that was sold up until 2006, when Sony decided to cut the program to conserve costs. Since then, robotic dogs have been produced by a wide variety of electronics companies.|
"If [the cube] could talk - and the Enrichment Center takes this opportunity to remind you that it cannot - it would tell you to go on without it, because it would rather die in a fire than become a burden to you." - GLaDOS, PortalBoth the gamer and the soldier control their inanimate 'companions' to solve 'puzzles' of sorts, and any harm that may come to their companions is responded to in an inherently protective, human way. We tend to perceive them as selfless accomplices in our pursuits, filling their inanimate nature with imagined personalities of loyalty and dedication that is similar to a pet dog. We find comedy in their actions and mishaps, and this can cause people to become emotionally invested in their well-being. It is unsurprising in these ways that soldiers become attached to their robots, and we need more research to determine the positive and negative attributes of this emotional connection.
|iRobot corporation, which manufactures a great deal of UGV bomb-defusing technologies, features the remains of Packbot #129 in its corporate museum. It was destroyed in an IED blast in the line of duty.|
|Soldiers mourned the bomb-defusing robot they had nicknamed 'Scooby Doo' after it was 'fatally' damaged in a blast. The robot had disarmed 19 explosive devices in its lifespan, practically making it a war-hero and certainly making it an invaluable member of US Infantry in war zones. Photo from DailyMail.|