CASE STUDY

Socially Sensitive Help Giving from Robots

Method — Laboratory Experiment

The robotic behavior tested in this controlled experiment was created after careful qualitative observation. The combination of methods offers a more complete picture than either method on its own.

Brought baking supplies to a university dorm and recorded people’s conversations (with permission) as they tried to make cupcakes. Coded these “helpful” tips by their linguistic features and programmed a robot with different helping styles based on the observed conversations. Ran a controlled laboratory experiment to measure perceptions of these different helping styles.

A robot programmed to give verbal assistance during a baking task.
A robot programmed to give verbal assistance during a baking task.

Research Questions

Robots are often conceptualized as ideal assistants, smart and steadfast. But can help from robots (like help from some people) become overbearing and disruptive? What makes a robot a humane helper?

Design Insights

Robots using an indirect style (“so actually you might just want to…“) were perceived to be less controlling, but there was a drawback. Indirect styles were also perceived to be less intelligent. An intriguing design direction: A not-quite-sure robot whose help will never be confused with a command.