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Sociable Robotic Trash Cans

There is so much we still need to understand in the interaction between humans and artificial beings. The continual effort poured into studies like this paints a slowly clearer picture of the best way to interact.

This particular study was carried out by researchers at Toyohashi University of Technology's Electronics-Inspired Interdisciplinary Research Institute. The researchers were looking to examine how the human tendency to regulate interactions by context could be challenged by a completely new type of interaction.

Typically we regulate how we interact with others by a variety of subconscious factors. We take the gender, relative age, cultural factors even race into consideration subconsciously before we even start to interact with another. How then would we react to a totally new element, such as say, a friendly trash can? How would that affect our subconscious cues?

To test this, Michio Okada and colleagues looked at the instinctual distance a human volunteer took up from the friendly robots, gauging subconscious reactions by how far away the participants stood. They used children as their target audience, figuring that social preconceptions would be lowest in this age group.


Instinctual distance from the STB

The sociable trash box or STB was designed to require collaboration from the children. It can identify trash, but needs their help to pick it up and put the trash inside it.

108 children were studied, ranging in age from four to eleven years of age.

One of the most interesting interactions observed, was that the subconscious reaction to the robots was markedly different depending on whether the children encountered the robots individually, or they encountered a swarm of three robots all at once. A markedly more cautious approach and greater distance was prevalent when the swarm was encountered as opposed to when a single robot was encountered.

By cataloguing and understanding these instinctual reactions the researchers hope to discover the best modes for introducing robots into our general society with minimal negative reactions.


The construction of the Sociable Trash Box

References

Sociable Trash Box: Proxemics in Dynamic Interactions

Learning how to socialize with robots

Paper: STB: Child-dependent Sociable Trash Box Robot
Journal: International journal of social robotics, 3, 4, Pages 359370, 2011

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