The Design Space for Robot Appearance and Behaviour for Social Robot Companions
To facilitate necessary task-based interactions and to avoid annoying or upsetting people a domestic robot will have to exhibit appropriate non-verbal social behaviour. Most current robots have the ability to sense and control for the distance of people and objects in their vicinity. An understanding of human robot proxemic and associated non-verbal social behaviour is crucial for humans to accept robots as domestic or servants. Therefore, this thesis addressed the following hypothesis: Attributes of robot appearance, behaviour, task context and situation will affect the distances that people will find comfortable between themselves and a robot. Initial exploratory Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) experiments replicated human-human studies into comfortable approach distances with a mechanoid robot in place of one of the human interactors. It was found that most human participants respected the robot's interpersonal space and there were systematic differences for participants' comfortable approach distances to robots with different voice styles. It was proposed that greater initial comfortable approach distances to the robot were due to perceived inconsistencies between the robots overall appearance and voice style. To investigate these issues further it was necessary to develop HRI experimental set-ups, a novel Video-based HRI (VHRI) trial methodology, trial data collection methods and analytical methodologies. An exploratory VHRI trial then investigated human perceptions and preferences for robot appearance and non-verbal social behaviour. The methodological approach highlighted the holistic and embodied nature of robot appearance and behaviour. Findings indicated that people tend to rate a particular behaviour less favourably when the behaviour is not consistent with the robot’s appearance. A live HRI experiment finally confirmed and extended from these previous findings that there were multiple factors which significantly affected participants preferences for robot to human approach distances. There was a significant general tendency for participants to prefer either a tall humanoid robot or a short mechanoid robot and it was suggested that this may be due to participants internal or demographic factors. Participants' preferences for robot height and appearance were both found to have significant effects on their preferences for live robot to Human comfortable approach distances, irrespective of the robot type they actually encountered. The thesis confirms for mechanoid or humanoid robots, results that have previously been found in the domain of human-computer interaction (cf. Reeves & Nass (1996)), that people seem to automatically treat interactive artefacts socially. An original empirical human-robot proxemic framework is proposed in which the experimental findings from the study can be unified in the wider context of human-robot proxemics. This is seen as a necessary first step towards the desired end goal of creating and implementing a working robot proxemic system which can allow the robot to: a) exhibit socially acceptable social spatial behaviour when interacting with humans, b) interpret and gain additional valuable insight into a range of HRI situations from the relative proxemic behaviour of humans in the immediate area. Future work concludes the thesis.
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