A four-wheeled robot named Husky has been helping villagers carry water in a remote part of India.
Husky can be loaded with three 20 litre bottles of water at a time.
The project is seen as key to helping people, mainly women, who spend a great deal of time and energy carrying water from wells.
More than half of India’s population has no access to tap water in their homes.
The robot, created by Clearpath Robotics, was based in the 200-person village of Ayyampathy in Southern India for a trial.
Eleven volunteers – 10 women and one man – worked with Husky on water-carrying duties. The volunteers were aged between 15 and 70.
The robot communicated with the volunteers to encourage them to place the water jugs on top of it and to show it the way to their homes. Once the volunteers decanted the water into their storage containers at home, the robot thanked them and reminded them to wash their hands before their next meal.
Dr Amol Deshmukh, a computer scientist from the University of Glasgow, worked with India’s Amrita University on the project.
One of the issues was introducing robot technology in such a rural location. The residents would not have previously seen anything similar.
Dr Deshmukh said: “Most of the research carried out to date on human-robot interactions are carried out in lab environments in urban settings, with people who have developed some conception of what robots are and how they work by seeing depictions of them in TV and film.
“We wanted to see how people from considerably more remote rural populations would view robots, which have a lot of labour-saving potential.”
After Husky had been in the village and helping with water carrying for several days, the volunteers were interviewed.
“Every one of them said the robot made their lives easier, and they unanimously reported that they enjoyed working with the robot,” Dr Deshmukh said.
“Interestingly, they were also unanimous on the robot being ‘alive’, despite being aware that it was being controlled remotely.”
Dr Deshmukh said it was vital to explore how robotics were “likely to be perceived in the developing world” where they could be so beneficial.
The research was funded by Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) and Amrita University, Kerala, India.