Proxemics and Human-Robot Interaction at Willow Garage

Until recently, our PR2 robots have seen people as mere obstacles in the environment. From a robotics perspective, preventing collisions with "obstacles" is a matter of setting small buffer zones around them to avoid.  Of course, your personal space is quite different from the safe buffer zone around a table.  Invading personal spaces is not only rude, but can also be unsafe as a person might move unpredictably. As mobile manipulators mature into personal robots operating in your environments, they must respect social norms to gain your acceptance and trust.

To move the PR2 toward its goal of becoming a personal robot, we are building people-specific sensory systems, detection algorithms, and interactive behaviors. As a start to our human-robot interaction research (HRI) at Willow Garage, we ran a controlled experiment on the proxemics (i.e., personal space) behaviors between people and PR2s. We explored several situations: (1) people approaching a PR2, (2) people being approached by an autonomously moving PR2, and (3) people being approached by a teleoperatated PR2.  From this study, we found substantially different influences on personal space than those seen in previous HRI work including the person's agreeableness and pet ownership experience.  Along with other findings about pet ownership and HRI noted by our friends at Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, these latest findings have motivated our current research on the relationship between human-pet relationships and human-robot interactions.

With all of this research and development going on, we have lots of human-robot interaction designs to explore and evaluate. Of course, running these studies with only roboticists isn't acceptable when we really want to understand how people who are not necessarily familiar with robotics will interact with personal robots. If you live or work nearby (Menlo Park, CA) and are interested in visiting us to participate in studies with our robots, just let us know <>. If you are far away, we might be running some studies online so drop us a line if you'd be interested in trying those out.

 -- Leila Takayama & Caroline Pantofaru