In the ruins of Pompeii, a four-legged friend sniffs around the smallest of corners, checking fragile tunnels chiselled from the rock by long gone relic hunters, and collecting useful information to feed back to its owners.

Bright yellow and black, minus an obvious head and with a £60,000 price tag, the Boston Dynamics quadruped robot, SPOT, is a stark vision of modern technology in a city buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Currently monitoring hard-to-reach structures across the historic site, the robot looks more like WALL-E than Star Trek’s lifelike android Lt Commander Data.

However, according to Professor of Developmental Psychology Thusha Rajendran, of Scotland’s new £21 million National Robotarium, robots of tomorrow’s world are just around the corner, and research being carried out here may well hold the key to what they can do for us.

A psychologist who specialises in human and robot interaction, he is among a research team at the Edinburgh facility working on how best to put robotic technology to work.

In what could be described as a case of 'Aye, Robot', that involves asking Scots what they want from robot technology.

“We don’t know where we want to go with some of it,” he says, referring to rapidly evolving technology which is making robots look and move progressively realistic ways; from robot dogs that scramble over ancient paths, to humanoid robots that climb stairs, shake cocktails and, in the case of the recently revealed Ameca robot with its hyper-realistic facial expressions, look eerily just like us.

“It depends on what society wants,” he continues. “I sometimes have to remind technical colleagues that the most important thing are people.

“We can build a robot, but you have to make people interact with them. And unless you design it well enough to do a specific job, a lot of technology will be left on the shelf.”

Last week tech billionaire Elon Musk confirmed Tesla is to manufacture a humanoid robot named Optimus – triggering visions of Transformers’ robot, Optimus Prime.

Although it will begin with carrying out repetitive tasks, Musk wants Optimus to eventually store elements of its owner’s character, including memories and personality traits.

As if that is not chilling enough, the use of drones and Uran-9 robot tanks armed with guns and flamethrowers in Ukraine has further ignited concerns over a future world of Terminator-style armed soldiers.

The robots heading our way will be explored by Prof Rajendran and colleagues Stewart Miller, CEO of the new National Robotarium, and Heriot-Watt’s Prof. Lynn Baillie, at an Edinburgh Science Festival event later this month.

Entitled ‘How robots will help us in the future’, the lecture, at the National Museum of Scotland on April 14, will consider how robots will help us stay safe, healthy and productive in the decades to come.

Prof Rajendran says much of what they do will hinge on how much we feel we can trust and build relationships with our new electronic friends.

To help find out, citizen science style research and real-life settings in Scottish care homes are being used by Robotarium researchers, with findings expected to mould the way robots are developed.

“We are looking at what we want robots for,” he adds. “Do we want them as companions, or to work for us? It could be that we have robots to do the drudgery for us so we can do the things we like and want to do.

“Or could they be companions for people who are lonely?

“We want to see if people could be attached to robots in a meaningful way.

“If an elderly person wants a companion, could that be a robot pet which could give them information about when to take medication or scan the floor to see if they’ve have had a fall?

“For people who can’t get out and need companionship, who don’t want to look after and toilet a pet or take it for walks, a robot might provide some sense of company and look out for us.

“Robots are already in your home,” he points out. “The popular idea is that a robot is something that is moving and looks human, but it could be a conversational agent like Siri or Alexa.”

At Leuchie House in North Berwick, a residential respite centre for people with long-term neurological and physical conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s and MND, The National Robotarium researchers have been trialling robotic technologies aimed at helping people with assisted living needs.

The partnership involves researchers from the National Robotarium’s Assisted Living Lab, a purpose-built flat and workshop, working with guests at Leuchie House to develop advanced technologies that can address specific needs.

As well as potentially leading to robots which can help users live more independently, AI technology developed at the National Robotarium could be used to monitor changes in patients’ health and alert carers.

The National Robotarium has also linked with Blackwood Homes & Care in Scotland. The project involves doctors using a remotely operated robot to carry out check-ups on residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.

One challenge, adds Prof. Rajendran, is understanding how we respond to interacting with robots instead of other humans, and whether manmade health workers and household helpers can gain our trust enough to fully function.

“We research with human participants,” he explains. “One study is if you are stuck in a maze would you trust it to help you get out of the maze? What kind of robot would you trust, what happens if you failed to get out - would you trust it again?

“Some of these things we can’t answer without asking people.

“More of these are going to be created and different robots will be put in different environments. People will decide if they like it or trust it.”

Due to officially open later this year, the National Robotarium is a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. It is supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government through the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, a 15 year investment programme jointly funded by both governments and regional partners.

The facility has a collection of four-legged robots being used to develop technology for use in hazardous environments such as inspecting dangerous buildings or in emergency situations.

Researchers are also developing K-9 style train cleaning robot, a robotic coach to aid rehabilitation after stroke, and underwater robots which can help inspect and repair offshore wind turbines.

One project seeks to restore the “feel” to robotic surgery, giving surgeons real-time feedback during an operation and helping to limit the need for additional treatments.

Prof Rajendran says he wants children and people of all ages to have input into research, and has also called for children to learn coding at primary school.

“It’s win-win if you get young pupils into coding and computational thinking,” he adds.

“Parents will say their children are great while using the iPad, but there’s a difference between being a user of technology and creator of technology.”

For details of how to book How Robots Will Help Us In The Future, April 14, at National Museum of Scotland, go to TIE PIECE Robots are coming, but what will they look like?

The most lifelike robot so far is Ameca. Revealed at a recent tech show, the UK-made humanoid robot has remarkably human-like movements and expressions.

Walker X, created by UB Tech, is more C-3PO than human, but can climb stairs, serve tea, wipe surfaces and clean floors.

Amazon’s new wheeled robot, Astro, can carry out home security checks, interact with users, dance, and make video calls.

Red and black humanoid robot, Tocabi resembles something from Lego Ninjago. It can be remotely controlled from thousands of miles away, raising the prospect of it being deployed in areas too dangerous for humans.

Richtech Robotics’ ADAM is a two-handed bartender come barista with multi-directional arms that resemble Mr Tickle.

While London-based Moley Robotics has developed robotic arms attached to rails which can cook more than 5,000 recipes.