July 9, 2013
People Prefer Robots That Care For You, Not Those That Need Caring For
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As the prospect of robots entering our everyday life becomes more and more of a reality, scientists have become more interested in the relationship between man and machine.
A new study published in Computers in Human Behavior looks at the issue from a human's perspective and asks how a robot's presentation affects how it is perceived.
"For robot designers, this means greater emphasis on role assignments to robots," said S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of Penn State University's Media Effects Research Laboratory. "How the robot is presented to users can send important signals to users about its helpfulness and intelligence, which can have consequences for how it is received by end users."
To gain a better understanding of how we perceive robots, researchers recorded 60 interactions between college students and Nao, a social robot developed by French company Aldebaran Robotics.
The research team framed the interactions using two different scenarios. First, the college participant could help Nao calibrate its eyes. Second, Nao could examine the participant's eyes, like an optometrist might, and make recommendations on how to improve vision. After the framed interactions, the student participants completed a survey about their perceptions of Nao, which were then analyzed by the researchers.
"When (humans) perceive greater benefit from the robot, they are more satisfied in their relationship with it, and even trust it more," Sundar said. "In addition, we found that when the robot cares for you, it seems to have greater social presence."
According to co-author Ki Joon Kim, doctoral candidate in interaction science at Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, a robot with a strong "personality" interacts more like an authentic human than a robot without a strong presence. The researchers found when the college students perceived Nao to have a strong social presence, they scored the caregiving robot as smarter than the robot in the other scenario. They were also more likely to give human attributes to the caregiving robot.
"Social presence is particularly important in human-robot interactions and areas of artificial intelligence because the ultimate goal of designing and interacting with social robots is to provide users with strong feelings of socialness," said Kim.
The researchers said they plan to begin looking into their findings in actual situations where caretaker robots are already in a working environment and into how other robot roles influence human perceptions.
"We have just finished collecting data at a local retirement village in State College with the Homemate robot which we brought in from Korea," said Sundar. "In that study, we are examining differences in user reactions to a robot that is an assistant versus one that is framed as a companion."
Other research on human-robot interactions is currently underway at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. There, engineers and other scientists are working to ensure that robots can operate in a trustworthy manner.
"People need to be able to trust robots that they come into contact with," said Kerstin Dautenhahn, from the University of Hertfordshire's Adaptive Systems Research Group. "As part of this new project, our research team here in Hertfordshire will focus on safety issues and trustworthy behavior in the application of robots as home companions."