flatcat and the UN sustainable development goals
Inspired by posting about the Jellyfishbot (https://twitter.com/x7557x/status/1527045770289065984) and relating that to sustainable development goals (SDGs), I started to think (again) about how our own work on social robots at jetpack is related to those goals. In particular we get the impression, that quite often this is not at all obvious to many readers.
We see ourselves as meaningful participants in a global society. Both as individuals and also as an organization we work for a healthy global environment and a livable future, and nothing else. We do this for ourselves, our children, and everyone. In due course, we align ourselves with the Agenda 2030 which sets 17 sustainable development goals.
The SDGs provide worldwide guidance for addressing the global challenges facing the international community.
A company’s impact in terms of the UN sustainable development goals (SDG) is especially important, because it can be potentially much larger than an individual’s impact. Below we provide an annotated selection of SDGs which aim to outline where and how flatcat engages with one of the 17 goals listed on https://sdgs.un.org/goals
SDG #3 Good health and well-being
Mental health and psychical well-being is part of overall health and well-being. As embodied artifical intelligence nerds (aka 21st century roboticists) we have studied much biology and are well informed about the close connection of bodily and psychological parameters. One of the reasons is that if robots are to interact in a pleasant way with humans, they need to be aware of the needs of the human body. |
Loneliness is a social and emotional factor that contributes to degraded well-being. This can lead to illness and shortened lives in the long run. Thus companionship is an important experience for people with direct influences on someone’s mental state. Its mental health related benefits include feeling a purpose, training one’s social skills, being mentally stimulated, feeling the attention of another being, and being physically touched and spoken too.
|Red onions from Wikipedia commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_onions.jpg|
We are using the term “robots can do pet-like things where real pets cannot”. This reflects a general aspect of our approach, to build things onion style, aka onionicity. See https://twitter.com/x7557x/status/1528849524596391936. This means, that even while very approximately, the desired function is already there qualitatively and then only needs to grow more perfectly into the final requirements.
So for creating inspiring companionship, we start with companionship-like things. For flatcat these are autonomous activity, real time reactivity in interaction, and dependence on supervision creating a deep level of engagement. It creates a feeling of being seen, and of being needed, which can contribute to feeling of having purpose.
Bodily touch through physical motion has an indirect but equally strong effect on humans. There is strong of evidence that pleasant touch is a real phenomenon down to its very own neural circuit , and an integral contributor to human well-being. flatcat is a robot that knows how to touch. It is one of very few robots existing, that is so sensitive that you can actually hold into your face without any fear of getting smacked or squeezed crudely. This is where flatcat makes another contribution, because it can pleasantly touch you and haptically interact in a sensitive and meaningful way. Here again, there is much more to human touch than what flatcat can achieve, but what it does achieve is still part of the full thing.
SDG #4 Quality education (Open source)
Education is a lot about didactics, that is, how to best teach particular knowledge and skills. All of this depends largely on the availability of adequate teaching material, and, more importantly, on the general availability of information about how things work. Open source technology is a revolution with respect to availability of such functional documentation. While not always well documented in prose, it contributes tremenduously to the education task by making mechanisms available for reading in principle. With complex technology, understanding is hard to start off with, but without a definitive description of what is going on, anything downstream is guesswork and reverse engineering at best.
Thus, basically any piece of functional technology being published under an open licensing term, contributes to quality education, in terms of hard, reliable, and reproducible facts about the workings of any kind of complex artificial system, be it a car, a chat bot, or any other kind of social robot.
Another huge part good teaching depends on is the availability of good story blocks. Motivation is everything, and usually stories are the best way to create true excitement for a field or a cause. Thus flatcat also contributes to learning and understanding of something complex through its ability to create playful engagement and interaction. So it is not just about the technology behind flatcat but also about the object itself and what it does.
The ongoing reaction and adjustment to its environment and behavioural patterns creates the possibility for human-robot couple to invent itself accordingly. Thus, the constant exchange of stimulation and, arguably, knowledge through the sensory interaction between flatcat and human and vice versa creates a learning by doing educational approach, an example of how robots can make us learn something about ourselves.
SDG #5 Gender equality
Due to the unique and embracing approach of jetpack robot designs, foremost including flatcat, using a soft fur instead of the prevailing and arguably inapproachable glossy plastic hard shell so often seen, unusual accessibility is created, in particular with respect to gender-based perceptual boundaries. There is a long-term impact in this on making STEM topics interesting and thus relevant for a more diverse crowd beyond the usual suspect male tech nerd gangstas, that seems to be over-abundantly driving the pertaining design community. |
SDG #9 Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
flatcat is a hardware product. With this, it brings industrial manufacturing to the forefront. With a humble batch size of 20 we are already showing, how industrial parameters like supply chain reliability are impacting product cost and availability.
Our business model is that of gaming consoles. As it goes, consoles are the hardware substrate that needs to be brought out in order for any kind of aftermarket revenue to be had by selling apps, add-ons and other kind of merchandise. Obviously, this creates the infrastructure for both creating customer value as well as technologically sustainable innovation.
The last bit, innovation, is the crucial bit. flatcat is indeed a highly innovative piece of technology, with unprecedented skills and capabilities in the direct interaction of a robot with humans. Force competence will be adressed by breakthrough robotics products necessarily, due to the importance of this modality for the experience of being human. Wouldn’t you prefer a good experience over an awkward one?
SDG #11 Sustainable cities and communities
Urbanisation is one of the major phenomena of the 20th century and extending critically into the 21st one. The massive condensation of people in increasingly large cities and urban areas poses quite particular challenges, especially to health and well-being. Social aspects are also a big part of that because humans are social animals and their health depends on meaningful belonging. Loneliness as a lack of appropriate social interaction leads to degrading health and illness in the long run.
SDG #12 Responsible consumption and production
We like to go forward with practical examples of how open source, contemporary ethics, and ecological thinking can be employed in high-tech robot cultural production. This goes for scale of production, materials used, and the effective placement of the robot in a larger cultural frame. Open source technology is a prerequisite for repairabiity, which again is a prerequisite for sustainable quality hardware products that are ready for an uncertain future, which, above all the uncertainty, it certainly is. flatcat is fully repairable through the availability of its contruction plan, the use of 3D-printed parts which can be recreated at home or somewhere nearby, regardless of where in the world you are. Parts are made from biodegradable material, locally manufactured and sourced where possible.
Motivated by a related recent post, we set out to discuss and annotate how social robots and our own robot design of flatcat is related to sustainable development in the 21st century. The main points of connection are contributions to health and well-being, and education. Through a strong interconnection among the individual goals, there is additional aspects which we highlighted across more technological, social, and ecological SDGs.
References and notes
- Lonely people connect to other lonely people 
- !!! The persuasive power of robot touch. Behavioral and evaluative consequences of non-functional touch from a robot, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0249554
- !!! Calming Effects of Touch in Human, Animal, and Robotic Interaction—Scientific State-of-the-Art and Technical Advances, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.555058/full
- A Touching Connection: How Observing Robotic Touch Can Affect Human Trust in a Robot, https://hrilab.tufts.edu/publications/law2020touching.pdf
- Affective and Behavioral Responses to Robot-Initiated Social Touch: Toward Understanding the Opportunities and Limitations of Physical Contact in Human–Robot Interaction, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fict.2017.00012/full
- Touch aversion in patients with interpersonal traumatization, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22914
- Social Touch in Human–Robot Interaction: Robot-Initiated Touches can Induce Positive Responses without Extensive Prior Bonding, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12369-018-0500-9
- touch robots: paro, lithe, …
- Neural Pathway Key to Sensation of Pleasant Touch Identified https://neurosciencenews.com/pleasant-touch-sensation-20488/amp/
- feed: papers: pleasant touch: https://neurosciencenews.com/pleasant-touch-sensation-20488/amp/
- feed: papers: pleasant touch: Molecular and neural basis of pleasant touch sensation, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn2479
- feed: papers: pleasant touch: Damage to the Right Insula Disrupts the Perception of Affective Touch, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/592014v1