Next time you need help creating a friendly robot for a science project, be sure to use Fido. Robotic designers recently discovered that using man's best friend in interactions with socially-equipped robots may have benefits in aiding in the development of future automaton.
Using a control group of 41 canines, researchers divvied up the pups into two groups: social and asocial. The dogs in the social group observed their owner and another human experimenter engaging in sociable behaviors, while those in the asocial group acted in a more robotic fashion.
The experiment involved pointing out the location of hidden food in the room. In the social group, the dog's owner and the experimenter first interacted with each other like regular humans while the dog looked on. Then, a human-sized robot named the PeopleBot² was brought into the room. PeopleBot² went through the same sort of motions with the human experimenter just executed by using sociable behaviors on its customized "social" setting with the dog owner. After that, the dog was brought in to interact with the robot in the reverse order of the tasks performed.
In the asocial group, the tasks are the same, except that the human experimenter acted robotically and the robot was made to act robotically as well. The PeopleBot² doesn't resemble a human at all — it looks more like "gym equipment" than Toyota's robot maid. It is able to call the dog's name and has two arms and four fingers that can do simple gestures, like pointing and grabbing things. However, since only one of the arms can do specific movements, the human experimenter was only allowed to use one arm too, in order to emulate the 'bot.
The results were promising, though not groundbreaking: the dogs definitely did not behave towards the robot in the same manner as they would with humans, but seemed to react positively when the social mode of the 'bot was engaged. For instance, the dogs would position themselves near the robot or look at the robot's head when the PeopleBot² acted socially.
As for the hidden food? Not surprisingly, the dogs were able to find it better when PeopleBot² acted more human, versus in its normal robotic mode. Also, researchers believe that the preliminary observation the dogs made of the humans and the robot helped the dogs understand what was going on with PeopleBot² better.
The experiments revealed certain nuances of animal behavior and their mental process that might help robot designers formulate successful social-capable 'bots in the future. At least it won't hurt if Fido decides to bite a poor 'bot's leg — although peeing on it is a whole other story.