Dogs Could Help Roboticists Train Social Robots
September 13, 2013

Social Robot Training With Dogs

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Gabriella Lakatos of the Hungarian Academy of Science and Eötvös Loránd University says the best things a social robot designer can do is bring their dog to work. Watching how the dog interacts with a prototype during testing could help the designers fine-tune their robots, according to the study published in the journal Animal Cognition. Lakatos found dogs react sociably to robots that behave socially towards them, even if the machines are not humanoid at all.

Lakatos and her team tested the reactions of 41 dogs, divided into two groups depending on the nature of human-robot interaction. The groups were called "social" and "asocial." Part of the asocial group first watched an interaction between their owner and the human experimenter, then they observed an ‘asocial’ interaction between the owner and the robot. The rest of the canines in the asocial group participated in these interactions in the reverse order.

The social groups had the same experiences in reverse. Part of the group watched their owner interact with a human first, then a social interaction between the owner and the robot. The other part of the group participated in these interactions in reverse. Afterwards, for both social and asocial groups, either the human experimenter or the robot pointed to hidden food locations.

The robot used for this study was a customized, human-sized PeopleBot with two arms and four-fingered hands. One of the robots arms was capable of simple gestures and grasping objects. Even so, the robot does not resemble a human. It looks more like a piece of gym equipment with a white gloved hand attached.

The PeopleBot was programmed to either perform socially enriched human-like conduct - calling the dog by its name, for example - or to behave in a machine-like and asocial manner. The human experimenter could only mimic moves similar to the robots capabilities, using only one hand to make specific gestures, for example.

The dogs did not display the same social behavioral reactions to the robots that they normally display in their close relationship with humans. The research team recorded definite positive social interactions, however, between the animals and the robot - for example, the dogs spent more time near the robot or gazing at its head when the PeopleBot behaved socially.

When the robot pointed out the hidden food, it was very difficult for the dogs to find it. Further analysis revealed that the dogs were much better at finding the loot when a socially behaving robot pointed it out to them, however. The research team believes that watching their owners interact with the PeopleBot may have influenced the dogs' attitudes towards the machine when they confronted it during the pointing phase of the testing.

The research team believes that this type of study provides important insights into the mental processes of living creatures, as well as how social robots should be designed. “Roboticists who design interactive robots should look into the sociality and behavior of their designs, even if they do not embody human-like characteristics,” Lakatos advises.