A service robot is commonly defined as a robot which operates semi- or fully-autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, excluding manufacturing operations. Service robots are predicted to have an innovation potential similar to the huge impact of industrial robots. So far, service robot systems are mainly implemented in areas such as defense, rescue, safety and agriculture, usually supervised by human experts and in protected surroundings. However, service robots regarded here have to operate in exposable areas with possibly affect numerous people or even accomplish activities directly on humans, for example services affecting health care. These services demand laypersons to be able to deal with robots safely and properly and could affect non-participants close-by as well. Furthermore, the living environment can only be adapted to the implementation of service robots to a limited extent.
One case study deals with the implementation of service robotic systems in the nursing and geriatric caregiving sector. This very example seems particularly worth considering due to the changes in the age pyramid of the population and the associated escalating requirement for care performances imminent in many modern societies. Extended robotic assistance could help people to remain at home for a longer period and could potentially contribute to reduce costs as well and hence be a socially preferable option. On the other hand, ethical aspects affecting freedom, autonomy and the needs for social contacts and attention probably impose restrictions. Up to now service usually is provided by humans. Careful human service is characterized by detailed adaptation to the individual demand particularly including the so-called soft skills like friendliness, courtesy or empathy which cannot be provided by robots.
The described circumstances and the specific features of service robotic systems which are unequal in different domains induce a broad field of open questions on the potentials, risks and the appropriate promotion or restriction in certain areas which are to be analyzed and evaluated from the perspective of technology assessment. The research work will thereby combine different relevant disciplinary perspectives. Technical, economic, legal, ethical, methodological, anthropological and psychological aspects are to be combined to finally give a concise assessment and transdisciplinarily acceptable recommendations on the assignment of service robots in the various sectors of society. The final study shall address the relevant scientific disciplines, politics and the general public likewise.