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Would You Mind Me if I Pass by You? Socially-Appropriate Behaviour for a Social Robot

As more and more robots are being deployed into human spaces, like hotels, hospitals, or shopping halls, new techniques for navigation are needed. Robots can simply move aside and wait for the customer to pass by. In contrast, humans follow more difficult social norms.

A social robot – artistic impression. Image credit: Pxhere, CC0 Public Domain

A recent paper on arXiv.org investigates how people typically avoid each other in a narrow corridor space. That enables identifying the factors that contribute to the socially acceptable and efficient passing behavior for robotic machines.

It is shown that both body orientation and sliding motion matter in this case. Researchers implement a path-planner for an omnidirectional robot that timely realizes these factors in a human-like way.

Feedback results from the study participants show that both mentioned factors impact the warmth of the robot. Also, a machine capable of rotating its body was preferred by participants compared to a non-rotating model.

Interacting physically with robots and sharing environment with them leads to situations where humans and robots have to cross each other in narrow corridors. In these cases, the robot has to make space for the human to pass. From observation of human-human crossing behaviours, we isolated two main factors in this avoiding behaviour: body rotation and sliding motion. We implemented a robot controller able to vary these factors and explored how this variation impacted on people’s perception. Results from a within-participants study involving 23 participants show that people prefer a robot rotating its body when crossing them. Additionally, a sliding motion is rated as being warmer. These results show the importance of social avoidance when interacting with humans.

Research paper: Senft, E., Satake, S., and Kanda, T., “Would You Mind Me if I Pass by You? Socially-Appropriate Behaviour for an Omni-based Social Robot in Narrow Environment”, 2022. Link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2201.11601

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