Dogs Interact With Pointing PeopleBot in Experiment

Posted on September 13, 2013

Researchers say dogs may be a good tool for testing social robots. Gabriella Lakatos of the Hungarian Academy of Science and Eotvos Lorand University conducted a study that found dogs react sociably to robots that behave socially towards them, even if the devices look nothing like a human.

Lakatos says in a release, "Roboticists who design interactive robots should look into the sociality and behavior of their designs, even if they do not embody human-like characteristics."

41 dogs were tested in the study with a robot called PeopleBot. The robot is human-sized and has two arms and white four-fingered hands. One of the PeopleBot's arms is capable of grasping and making simple gestures, like pointing.

The experiment consisted of an interactive phase followed by a pointing session. The robot was programmed to either perform socially enriched human-like conduct (such as calling a dog by its name) or to behave in an asocial machine-like manner. The human experimenter used in tandem with the robot could only do moves similar to the device's capabilities, and was only allowed to use one hand to make specific gestures. The experiment consisted of an interactive phase followed by a pointing session, both with a human and a robotic experimenter. In the interaction phase, dogs witnessed a 6-minute interaction episode between the owner and a human experimenter and another 6-minute interaction episode between the owner and the robot. Each interaction episode was followed by the pointing phase in which the human/robot experimenter indicated the location of hidden food by using pointing gestures.

The level of sociality shown by the robot was not enough to elicit the same type of social behavioral reactions from the dogs that they normally display with their human companions. However, the researchers did record some positive social interactions between the animals and the robot. For example, the researchers say the dogs spent more time near the robot or gazing up at its head when the PeopleBot behaved socially.

The researchers say it was quite difficult for the dogs to find the hidden food when a robot pointed it out to them. The dogs were far better at finding the loot when a socially behaving robot pointed it out to them.

Here is a video showing some of the experiments. There is some audio in this video around the 19 second mark, so don't start turning your volume up or it will be loud when a screachy whistling noise (form the robot) kicks in. Take a look:

The research was published here in the journal, Animal Cognition.

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