Meet Your New Corporate Office Mate: A ‘Brainless’ Robot

As part of its research, Naver has also published studies in the field of human-robot interaction. After a series of experiments, for example, Naver concluded that the optimal spot for a robot in a crowded elevator with humans was the corner next to the entrance on the side opposite of the elevator buttons. Putting the robot at the back of the elevator made humans uncomfortable, Naver’s researchers found.

The company’s engineers also designed animated eyes that gaze in the direction that the robot is headed. They found that employees were better able to anticipate the robot’s movement if they could see its gaze.

None of the machines look human. Mr. Kang said the company did not want to give people the false impression that robots would behave like human beings. (Some robotics experts believe that humanoid robots make humans more, not less, uncomfortable.)

Naver, of course, isn’t the only tech company trying to advance robot technology. Rice Robotics has deployed hundreds of cartoonish, boxy robots that deliver packages, groceries and more in office buildings, shopping malls and convenience stores around Asia. Robots like Optimus, a prototype that Tesla unveiled in September, are designed to be more like humans, and carry boxes, water plants and more, but they are a long way from being deployed.

Victor Lee, the chief executive at Rice Robotics, said he was impressed when he saw videos of the machines and Naver’s robot-friendly building. While Rice’s delivery robots function differently, Naver’s approaches “made sense,” he said. “Naver obviously has way more development budget on these moonshot projects.”

Naver said one distinctive feature of its robots was that they are intentionally “brainless,” meaning they are not rolling computers that process information inside the machine. Instead, the robots communicate in real time over a high-speed, private 5G network with a centralized “cloud” computing system. The robots’ movements are processed using data from cameras and sensors.

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