Determing What Robots Should Look Like Varies With Age
October 1, 2013

Determing What Robots Should Look Like Varies With Age

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

The perception of what a robot, notably a personal robot, should look like depends a lot on the age of the individual being asked, but it also varies with what the robot is supposed to do, according to new research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

A lot of this preference could stem from how robots have been portrayed in movies and TV shows, but the appearance very much seems to be based on the age of the beholder.

Researchers in the new study found that older and younger people have significant and varying preferences for what they think a robot should look like. Moreover, the respondents were found to change their minds based on what they believe the robot is required to do.

Participants were shown a series of photos portraying either a robotic, human or a mix of human and robot faces and were asked to select the ones that they preferred for the appearance of a robot.

The study found that most college-aged adults preferred a robotic appearance, although those surveyed were open to the other faces. By contrast nearly 60 percent of the older adults surveyed responded that they would prefer a robot with a human face, while only six percent of the older adults chose a face that mixed the features of a robot and human.

The preferences wavered when the participants were then told the robot would serve in an assistant capacity, and would help with personal care, chores, social interaction or for helping to make decisions. The research further suggests that when a robot is designed to help with a specific task that its appearance should be aligned with the attributes of said task.

“We found that participants, both younger and older, will assign emotional traits to a robot based on its face, which will determine what they are most comfortable interacting with,” Akanksha Prakash, a School of Psychology graduate student who led the study, said in a statement. “As a result, preferences for robotic appearance varied across tasks.”

The findings of this study will be presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics International Annual Meeting in San Diego.

The preferences were less strong for helping with chores, and the majority of older and younger participants opted for a robot with a robotic face. For decision-making tasks, such as getting advice for where to invest money, younger participants wanted a mixed human-robot face to do the advice giving, while a fully robotic face was the least favored by the other respondents. Older adults overwhelmingly preferred the human face.

The mixed face was seen to be smarter.

“Those who selected a mixed face perceived the robot as more intelligent, smarter or wiser than one with a ‘cute’ robotic face,” added Prakash. “Perceived intelligence in appearance was an important assessment criterion for receiving assistance with decision-making tasks.”

When it came to personal care tasks – that might include bathing – there was a stark contrast as well. Those who opted for a human face said it was because they saw the human-like care capabilities, but others didn’t want anything that looked like a human to bathe them due to the private nature of the task.

“Sometimes personal care can get pretty involved,” Prakash noted. “Many participants said they would rather have an impersonal looking creature caring for their personal needs.”

The final category involved social tasks and both age groups preferred a more human looking face.

Prakash next plans to expand the study to other age groups and more diverse educational backgrounds.