An expert says engineers may have to design androids to avoid unhelpful racial stereotypes.

Monash University Professor Robert Sparrow says a lack of diversity in robotics has negative social consequences, just like in other aspects of society.

The majority - between 66 and 72 per cent - of 125 humanoid robots studied by the professor could be seen as white, due to their surface colouring.

“A lack of diversity in robots should be expected to have the same negative social consequences, including consequences for equity, as a lack of diversity in other forms of media,” Prof Sparrow says in a new article.

He said manufacturers must observe the need for racial diversity, as the perception that robots have a particular race can be problematic, provoking unintended responses from different communities.

Prof Sparrow, from the university's philosophy department, used a white robot in law enforcement in an African-American neighbourhood, which he said “may be seen as provocative”.

Equally, he said a robot perceived to be black and working in a service role could also be controversial.

“Robot designers have an ethical obligation to manufacture racially diverse robots,” he said.

“However, manufacturing robots perceived as brown, black or Asian risks representing these people as slaves and evokes negative historical associations.”

He said engineers have a moral and ethical obligation to protect people from their own racial stereotyping.

“Engineers can only avoid this ethical and political dilemma by manufacturing robots that people don't think of as having race, which may require making them non-humanoid or, for instance, blue,” he said.