How people respond to being touched by a robot

March 10th, 2011 - 5:37 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 10 (ANI): How would people react to being touched by a robotic nurse? Would they recoil, or would they take it in stride?

In a study, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that people generally had a positive response toward being touched by a robot, but their perception of the robot’s intent made a significant difference.

“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 favourable or not,” said lead researcher Charlie Kemp.

In the study, the researchers watched how people responded to Cody, a robotic nurse, when it touched them.

They found that the study subjects responded more positively when they believed Cody intended to clean their arm and negatively when they interpreted it as a ‘comforting’ touch.

Kemp said that the responses were consistent with how people relate to physical contact with human nurses.

“…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,” he added.

Kemp and his team also tested how subjects would respond if Cody verbally indicated its intentions before each touch.

“The results suggest that people preferred when the robot did not actually give them the warning,” said Tiffany Chen, doctoral student at Georgia Tech.

“This might be because they were startled when the robot started speaking, but the results are generally inconclusive,” he added.

The researchers stressed how important it is to make robotic nurses more acceptable to patients, as hospitals plan to use them to perform important healthcare tasks, such as wound dressing and assisting with hygiene, tasks which require the robotic nurses to touch the patients’ bodies.

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,

The research was presented recently at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. (ANI)

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