If you tickle a robot, it may not laugh, but you may still consider it humanlike -- depending on its role in your life, reports an international group of researchers. Designers and engineers assign robots specific roles, such as servant, caregiver, assistant or playmate. Researchers found that people expressed more positive feelings toward a robot that would take care of them than toward a robot that needed care. To determine how human perception of a robot changed based on its role, researchers observed 60 interactions between college students and Nao, a social robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French company specializing in humanoid robots.
Each interaction could go one of two ways. The human could help Nao calibrate its eyes, or Nao could examine the human's eyes like a concerned eye doctor and make suggestions to improve vision. Participants then filled out a questionnaire about their feelings toward Nao. Researchers used these answers to calculate the robot's perceived benefit and social presence in both scenarios. The research team found that when participants perceived a strong social presence, they considered the caregiving robot smarter than the robot in the alternate scenario. Participants were also more likely to attribute human qualities to the caregiving robot.