A Little About Pleo/Human Initial Interactions

Perhaps the most unpredictable aspect of research in robotics is the initial human reaction to the robot. What differentiates a robot from a regular object is its ability to, not only move on its own (something that a regular object can’t do), but to interact with a human via reaction to touch or sound. How does one treat an object that possesses lifelike qualities, can emulate intelligence and emotion, but does not breathe or feel? This post attempts to answer this question of Human/Robot Interaction in regards to the Pleo.

Initial Reactions: How intuitive is Human/Robot Interaction?
Imagine that you are walking down the street and you see an obviously non-living material object walking along the sidewalk on its own… how do you react; is human/robot interaction intuitive or do humans approach robots with caution? Most interactions observed between the Pleo and humans on first encounters indicated that most humans will carefully approach the robot with an inquisitive expression, rather than jump right into physical interaction.

College Students
When bringing the Pleo home from research meetings, I like to bring it out to let my all college-aged housemates interact with the robot. I observed two different initial approaches. If I did not start off by introducing the Pleo as my robot, the question everyone asked upon seeing it was, “What is that?” In these cases, the human would maintain a safe distance from the Pleo until given further explanation. But, if I preceded the showing of the Pleo with an encouraging statement – such as, “Want to see my robot?” – the question and physical reaction I would receive in response would be something like, “What does it do?” and a more relaxed approach to the robot.

*The next categories are observations taken from a June 29th, 2012 social experiment. The Pleos and the Scribbler were placed outside the University of Southern California bookstore. Anyone was allowed to stop by and interact with the robots.

Walker By’s
Most people that walked by the robot set-up would at least look at the robots with a curious gaze, as if asking, “What is that?” Few people passing by actually came up to inspect and interact with the robot without encouragement. Walker by’s were more likely to stop if asked, “Would you like to come play with the robot?” at which point they would cautiously come over and ask what the robot does. This would be followed by a few minutes of tutorial before they physically interacted with the robot.

Parents appeared to be more eager to understand what the robot did and usually walked over on their own with their children and initiated the conversation with basic questions. Upon hearing the answers they would turn to their kids and summarize what we had just said, as if encouraging them to interact with the robot. Parents who came alone would ask if it was possible to buy the robot for their children. One woman even came back later with her son so that he could interact with the robot.

Tourists from Kazakhstan
It was particularly interesting to watch the interaction between the Pleos and a group of tourists from Kazakhstan. The group had a large age range and greeted the robot with many emotions – from fear, to curiosity, to attachment. The older girls, perhaps about high school age, didn’t pay much attention to the robot after initial introductions, interactions and explanations. The younger boys, perhaps middle school aged, were interested in the robots for quite some time. They asked questions about how to control the robot and the limitations of the interactions. The youngsters of the group were mainly concerned with playing with the robot, one girl even asked for the website where you could buy the Pleo.

[to be continued…]