Remember the cute little Wall-E from Disney? That is the ideal version of a social robot. Technology has not developed enough to produce Wall-Es, but with the help of Artificial Intelligence, robots have been developed which can interact with humans directly in social environments. Social robots can be programmed to greet you at your office and can also be programmed to serve particular functions or tasks at your home. It can also be programmed to show or talk differently to each of your family members.

What technology are Social Robots based on?

Social robots are based on the principles of cognitive computing. Cognitive computing is basically using computerised models in order to simulate the thought processes of humans. In case of a complex situation where the solution may be enigmatic, the cognitive computerised model will come up with a human-like answer. The only difference between AI and cognitive computing is that the AI tries to provide a human-like solution to a complex problem by depending on numbers and past data whilst cognitive computing augments human emotions and human-like behaviour to fetch the answer to a complex problem.

These robots run mainly on three technologies. They are Natural Language Processing consisting of queries and commands, Machine Learning consisting of algorithms (for recognition of patterns) and Real-time computing. These robots also use Cloud Technology, Deep Learning and Sentiment analysis to provide the user with the most human-like output to a particular given input.

The Cognitive Computing Framework

All social robots are based on the Cognitive Computing Framework. The four key attributes to a Cognitive Computing Framework are understanding, reasoning, learning and interacting. A Cognitive Computing System integrates Data Mining, Artificial Intelligence and a really powerful computing system to deal with big data. Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana are the best implementations of the Cognitive Computing Framework.

A few companies offering Cognitive Computing services are listed below:

  • IBM – Watson is the AI developed by IBM. This AI allows the user to build, validate, train and deploy simulators or models suitable for carrying out conversation into any application or device. This AI is mainly designed to cater to chatbot technology.
  • Microsoft – Microsoft Cognitive Services allow products like Skype, Bing and Cortana to fulfil tasks, translation of conversation for example. You can speak to Cortana in numerous languages; it takes in all the input in your preferred language and performs the tasks that you desire. It is due to Microsoft Cognitive Services that make this possible.
    • Google – Originally, DeepMind was taken over by Google in the year 2014, and Google DeepMind is used for technologies like recognition of speech (Google Assistant), recognition of images (Google Lens), recognition of handwriting, Google Translate, Google Maps and searching on Google for locally available items, stores and services.  

Jibo -The first Social Robot

Jibo is called the first “social” robot. It was built and designed in 2012 by an MIT Roboticist, Cynthia Breazal. The first social robot Jibo raised over 3.5 million USD in funding till the campaign ended in 2014. In 2017, Jibo was recognised as one of the best inventions by Time Magazine. The Jibo can identify faces, understand what human beings say, and answer in a very warm voice.

Social Robots in Healthcare

Designed by USC Interaction Lab and BlueSky Robotics, the ‘Bandit’ is a social robot that has been used to assist autistic children, motivate senior citizens to engage in physical exercise and offer therapeutic treatment to patients recovering from strokes. The ‘Bandit’ moves around and talks in a friendly voice. It even asks you to move your arms so that it can copy what you are doing and tells you that both of you are going to have fun. This is one of the many tasks that the ‘Bandit’ can perform in the field of healthcare.

What are a few examples of Social Robots?

  • HitchBot – This social robot is Canadian by origin and was designed by two professors, one from McMaster University and the other one from Ryerson University in the year 2013. The robot was designed to hitchhike by itself. The robot accomplished this by carrying out a basic conversation with the drivers who picked it up. It was mainly designed to become a travelling companion robot. Sadly in the year 2015, during its hitchhiking journey, the Hitchbot was decapitated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Tico Bot – Developed by Adele Robots, the Tico Bot was designed to interact with human beings and mainly served as an educational tool for professors to motivate children and help them learn better. The prototype consisted of a laser rangefinder and ultrasonic sensors for detecting hindrances such as objects in its path of motion and had a camera to track humans and scan codes such as barcodes and QR codes. Its height measures 4 feet 11 inches and weighs roughly around 84-85 kg. It operates on a battery, and a new one would last 8 hours at maximum.


The global social robotics market was valued at $1.98B USD in the year 2020 and is estimated to be valued at $11.24B USD by the year 2026. Social robots can not only help humans by social interaction but can also be used as industrial robots. The robots can assist warehouse workers in filling the warehouse with products; they can help a librarian by stacking the books on the correct shelves. The human need not write any code or program the robot to do so, all one needs to do is ask the robot for some help as if it was another human and the job is done. There is a negligible chance for error as the robot will not make the mistake of stacking the book on an incorrect shelf like a human might. This makes the robot more reliable than the human being performing the same task.

Also Read: Robotics & Its Types