A £1 million grant has been awarded to British scientists to find out if a robot can safely stir soup in a kitchen, it emerged today.
If the experiment funded by the European Commission is successful researchers believe it could pave the way for the introducion of 'thinking' service robots in society.
A spokeswoman for Bristol Robotics Lab, where the tests will be carried out, said today: "It will specifically look at the problems of a human and a robot working together in the same space, for example in a kitchen where the service robot is performing a task such as stirring soup, while you add cream."
Lab director Professor Chris Melhuish explained: "When we interact with other humans we are interpreting facial expression, body position, gestures, tone of voice as well as sharing a goal and understanding and following verbal instructions.
"For example in the soup situation, not only does the robot need to know what the goal is but he also needs to know how hard to stir the soup, what it means when you hold up your hand to say enough, to interpret the look of pain on your face if you accidentally get splashed with hot soup, and to stop stirring when told.
"This project aims to develop the rules we need to introduce this level of sophistication into service robots who are working closely with people."
Professor Melhuish said robots working in manufacturing are kept behind barriers for safety reasons - a measure that is not practical in the kitchen.
He said: "If we can provide the 'thinking' necessary for safe robot human co-operation in the same physical space then this will enable significant advancement in this area, and we will be a step closer to having service robots in society."
The Co-operative Human Robot Interaction Systems project is a collaboration between robotic engineers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists from West of England and Bristol universities.