Touched By A Robot, But Just What Are Its Intentions?

Can the touch of a human nurse's hand on a patient's arm be duplicated by a robot?  The robotic nurse can certainly reach out and touch a patient, but the question of motive is not clear, because a robot touches in the same way regardless of its intention. The Georgia Institute of Technology presented a research report today at the Human-Robot Interaction Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, which I think you will find very interesting.


Cody, Georgia Tech's robotic nurse: © Georgia Institute of TechnologyCody, Georgia Tech's robotic nurse: © Georgia Institute of Technology


What are Cody's intentions?: © Georgia Institute of TechnologyWhat are Cody's intentions?: © Georgia Institute of Technology


In Georgia Tech's study, researchers watched how people responded to Cody, a robotic nurse, when it touched them.  They found that subjects responded positively or negatively to Cody, depending on how Cody's intentions were interpreted; either as a 'comforting' touch or a touch intended to clean their arms.

Either way the robot's touch was exactly the same; only the subject's interpretation of the touch differed.  If the subject perceived the touch was perceived to begin washing their arms, their response to the touch was positive. If the touch was perceived as to comfort the subject, the response to Cody's touch was negative.

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

In another study, Kemp and his research team tested how subjects would respond if Cody verbally announced its intentions before each touch.  Here, the results were more inconclusive but, in general, the subjects responded negatively to this approach, and preferred when the robot did not announce its intentions before touching them. This could have been because Cody's voice startled them.

Kemp 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.

The study can be read in its entirety here: Touched By a Robot: An Investigation of
Subjective Responses to Robot-initiated Touch

source:  Georgia Tech via RDMag