Abu Dhabi: Drs Cappuccio, Eyssel and Eid paint a picture of a future of robotic assistants tied in to public and private clouds, able to organise our schedules, remind us when to take our medicine, check our diet, send our medical readings to our doctor and even remind us to put a coat on if the weather reports suggest it will be cold out. Such robots, they said, could help the elderly or people with disabilities, and even act as personal fitness trainers, virtual assistants or receptionists.

The collection of personal data then brings up issues of privacy.

“Should a robot be allowed to lie?” asked Dr Cappuccio. “My robot, I tell him something, and then is he allowed to reveal this information or is he expected to lie on my behalf? Is he allowed to represent me and to do things on my behalf, for example queuing in the shop?”

“Another aspect is control,” added Dr Eid. “If you have a robot in your home telling you what to do, who is in control?”

One issue that crops up is security: if our robots are connected to the internet, how easy would it be for someone to hack into them and take control of them?

“Technologically, this is very easy,” said Dr Eid. “With a very simple script you could develop an API that drives the robot and on top of this you could make a very simple script that you could build a new logic.”

“In the standard robotic conferences, it is not yet tackled,” said Dr Eyssel. “This issue is still at a bit removed from designing robots in an acceptable, human-centric way.”

As the field develops, she said, security is starting to become more of a concern. A SmartHome research project she is involved with was required to address security in its grant application. “This was not the case in earlier applications,” she said.