How do people respond to being touched by a robot? (w/ Video)

Mar 09, 2011
Cody, a robot in Charlie Kemp's Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech, was used in a study testing how subjects responded to being touched by a robot in a healthcare setting. In this initial test, researchers found that the subjects' perception of Cody's intent made a significant difference in how they responded. In this photo, Cody sports new Xbox 360 Kinect headgear, gear that he didn't have in the initial study. Credit: Rob Felt/Georgia Tech

For people, being touched can initiate many different reactions from comfort to discomfort, from intimacy to aggression. But how might people react if they were touched by a robot? Would they recoil, or would they take it in stride? In an initial study, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found people generally had a positive response toward being touched by a robotic nurse, but that their perception of the robot's intent made a significant difference. The research is being presented today at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"What we found was that how people perceived the intent of the robot was really important to how they responded. So, even though the robot touched people in the same way, if people thought the robot was doing that to clean them, versus doing that to comfort them, it made a significant difference in the way they responded and whether they found that contact favorable or not," said Charlie Kemp, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

In the study, researchers looked at how people responded when a robotic nurse, known as Cody, touched and wiped a person's forearm. Although Cody touched the subjects in exactly the same way, they reacted more positively when they believed Cody intended to clean their arm versus when they believed Cody intended to comfort them.

These results echo similar studies done with nurses.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"There have been studies of nurses and they've looked at how people respond to physical contact with nurses," said Kemp, who is also an adjunct professor in Georgia Tech's College of Computing. "And they found that, in general, if people interpreted the touch of the nurse as being instrumental, as being important to the task, then people were OK with it. But if people interpreted the touch as being to provide comfort … people were not so comfortable with that."

In addition, Kemp and his research team tested whether people responded more favorably when the robot verbally indicated that it was about to touch them versus touching them without saying anything.

"The results suggest that people preferred when the robot did not actually give them the warning," said Tiffany Chen, doctoral student at Georgia Tech. "We think this might be because they were startled when the robot started speaking, but the results are generally inconclusive."

In the study, researchers looked at how people responded when a robotic nurse, known as Cody, touched and wiped a person’s forearm. Although Cody touched the subjects in exactly the same way, they reacted more positively when they believed Cody intended to clean their arm versus when they believed Cody intended to comfort them. Credit: Georgia Tech

Since many useful tasks require that a robot touch a person, the team believes that future research should investigate ways to make robot touch more acceptable to people, especially in healthcare. Many important healthcare tasks, such as wound dressing and assisting with hygiene, would require a robotic nurse to touch the patient's body,

"If we want robots to be successful in healthcare, we're going to need to think about how do we make those robots communicate their intention and how do people interpret the intentions of the robot," added Kemp. "And I think people haven't been as focused on that until now. Primarily people have been focused on how can we make the safe, how can we make it do its task effectively. But that's not going to be enough if we actually want these robots out there helping people in the real world."

Explore further: Posture affects infants' capacity to identify objects, study finds

Related Stories

Robots closer to performing bed baths (w/ Video)

Nov 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Cody, a robot built at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the U.S., has been demonstrated initiating contact with a live person and cleaning their arm and leg using wiping motions. This ...

Teaching robots to move like humans (w/ Video)

Mar 07, 2011

When people communicate, the way they move has as much to do with what they're saying as the words that come out of their mouths. But what about when robots communicate with people? How can robots use non-verbal ...

Dancing robot swan triggers emotions

Sep 21, 2010

The Dying Swan is sometimes moving smoothly and gently, sometimes in a dramatic and fiery manner, as Tchaikovsky´s majestic music from the ballet Swan Lake is playing. Yet this is no ordinary ballet dancer, ...

Recommended for you

A robot prepared for self-awareness

13 hours ago

A year ago, researchers at Bielefeld University showed that their software endowed the walking robot Hector with a simple form of consciousness. Their new research goes one step forward: they have now developed ...

Future US Navy: Robotic sub-hunters, deepsea pods

Mar 28, 2015

The robotic revolution that transformed warfare in the skies will soon extend to the deep sea, with underwater spy "satellites," drone-launching pods on the ocean floor and unmanned ships hunting submarines.

Festo has BionicANTs communicating by the rules for tasks

Mar 27, 2015

Germany-based automation company Festo, focused on technologies for tasks, turns to nature for inspiration, trying to take the cues from how nature performs tasks so efficiently. "Whether it's energy efficiency, ...

Virtual robotization for human limbs

Mar 26, 2015

Recent advances in computer gaming technology allow for an increasingly immersive gaming experience. Gesture input devices, for example, synchronise a player's actions with the character on the screen. Entertainment ...

Robots on reins could be the 'eyes' of firefighters

Mar 25, 2015

Researchers at King's College London have developed revolutionary reins that enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2011
How do people respond to being touched by a robot?
-Well like this of course:
http
://www.valiantfan.com/valiant/issue.asp?cn=296
flying_finn
not rated yet Mar 09, 2011
Touch is significant. Years ago a study showed a teller who touched intentionally was perceived as smiling by the customers, though the teller didn't smile.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.