Study Investigates How People Respond to Being Touched by a Robot

Posted on March 9, 2011

Cody Robot Touch Study

In a new study, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology looked at how people responded when a robotic nurse, named Cody (pictured above), touched and wiped a person's forearm. Cody touched the subjects exactly the same way each time, but people reacted more positively when they believed Cody intended to clean their arm versus when they believed Cody intended to comfort them. People are clearly not as willing to have a robot provide comfort, which is not a big surprise. Cody is wearing an Xbox 360 on his head in the above photograph. However, he was not wearing the Xbox 360 headgear during the experiments.

Charlie Kemp, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, says, "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."

Cody Robot Touch Study

Kemp and his research team also 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 indicated people preferred it when Cody did not warn them what he was about to do, possibly because they were startled by Cody speaking.

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

Take a look:

Photos: Rob Felt/Georgia Tech

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