They may just be plastic, metal and wires, but robots can elicit… physical responses in humans. That’s according to a new study by researchers who analysed what happened to volunteers when they touched automatons in areas that would be thought of as intimate on an actual human being.
A team of scientists from Stanford University has set up a series of experiments using a small Nao robot, reports The Guardian. The robot — whose shell is plastic — was programmed to ask ten different participants to either point to or touch one of 13 parts of its body. As that happened, the team also measured skin conductance of the participants, which correlates with physiological arousal.
The team found that the strongest signals of arousal were observed when participants were asked to touch the areas on the robot that would usually be home to genitals or buttocks — what the team amusingly call “body parts with low accessibility”. Being asked to point didn’t register any response, while touching more innocuous body parts created low-level responses. The research is being presented at the International Communication Association in Japan this June.
Speaking to The Guardian, Jamy Li, one of the researchers, explained:
It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way…Social conventions regarding touching someone else’s private parts apply to a robot’s body parts as well. The research has implications for both robot design and the theory of artificial systems.
And, one suspects, implications for rather more… pragmatic players in the robotics industry.
Image by Louis Smith