Does Grandpa Need Help in the Bathroom? Send in C-3PO


Penn State researchers discovered that older people (ages 60-86) who could recall more cinematic robot portrayals were increasingly likely to hold positive attitudes toward robots in general. Holloway/L. Romano/Orion/Getty/HowStuffWorks
Penn State researchers discovered that older people (ages 60-86) who could recall more cinematic robot portrayals were increasingly likely to hold positive attitudes toward robots in general. Holloway/L. Romano/Orion/Getty/HowStuffWorks

Do you fantasize about the robotic future? If so, your dreams probably lean more toward Terminators and droids than toilet assistance bots. One vision is inherently more fun, but that's no reason to shun the inevitability of automated elder care. In fact, according to a new study out of Penn State, the memory of Arnold's exoskeleton and C-3PO may actually help you accept your fate.

Tech companies have been designing elder care robots for years, often with nonthreatening, utilitarian results. Toyota's Human Support Robot resembles a rolling computer terminal with an arm, while its Care Assist Robot looks like a cross between a forklift and a dental chair. These "partner robots" certainly don't resemble ED-209, but as the researchers suggested at this month's Human-Robot Interaction conference, maybe they should.

The researchers surveyed 379 adults ages 60-86, asking them for specific memories of robot films they'd seen and about their attitude toward the robots they remembered. The researchers found that individuals who could recall more cinematic robot portrayals were increasingly likely to hold positive attitudes toward robots in general. It didn't matter if they remembered murderous kill-bots or well-meaning helpers. The mere memory of multiple robotic portrayals correlated with pro-robot vibes.

The study findings also backed up the importance of human-looking robots to invoke a sympathetic user response, but the researchers stressed that robot designers might want to incorporate robotic features that older adults will remember from the cinematic past.

Does that mean Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet" is destined for pill-distribution duties? Will Maximilian from "The Black Hole" rescue you from the toilet?

Hey, if a memorable likeness dispels some of the awkwardness, then why not?