Last Februari 15, 2012, NASA made a little fuss about Robonaut (or R2) performing ‘the first human-humanoid handshake in space’. You can watch it in the video below.
‘Robonaut Shakes Hands’, uploaded by ReelNASA
I would like to use this occasion to enlighten both humans and humanoids about greetings. Although it is of course nice that cpt. Burbank has some kind words regarding the robot’s firm handshake, a nice bit of programming in itself, the normal phases of a greeting, which is a fairly well documented social interaction pattern, are remarkably absent. A handshake is what is called the ‘close salutation’. These ‘close salutations’ are the final phase of the entire greeting episode, which also includes sighting and announcement, distance salutations, and an approach phase (Kendon, 1990). None of the first three steps were followed by Robonaut and cpt. Burbank, the latter merely waited for Robonaut to try and grab his hand. I think this is important, because greetings are among the best documented social interaction patterns of humans. If we want to create social robots, then programming a proper greeting may be one of the most important, and most manageable things we can strive for.
Arendsen, J. (2008). Greeting by gesture, a review. Gesture, 8(3), pp. 386-390, link, pdf
Kendon, A. (1990). A description of some human greetings. Conducting Interaction, pp. 153-207. Cambridge University Press.
Update, here is a nice example of a handshake that includes all of the phases of a greeting. They make eye contact, nod slightly or incline their head, approach each other and shake hands.