Robots and Self-Extension

Victoria Groom of Stanford University has been performing teleoperation and autonomy experiments at Willow Garage, looking for ways to improve usability, safety, and effectiveness in human-robot interactions. While some robots are driven by co-located operators (e.g., surgical teleoperated robots), other robots are teleoperated remotely (e.g., search and rescue robots) or are even sent to act autonomously (e.g., drones). These different types of interaction affect how people think and feel about these robots. While remote teleoperation may be appropriate in one instance, the same type of interaction could be ineffective or even dangerous in another.

Victoria just finished running the last of approximately 84 study participants, and has just disassembled her experimental set-up.

For the last few months, one room at Willow Garage has been dedicated to Victoria's human-robot interaction experiment investigating the effects of autonomy vs. teleoperation, direct vs. mediated view, and real vs. simulated robot presence, on the user experience of self-extension into robots.  Self-extension refers to the feeling that an object is a part of oneself-- more like a limb or familiar tool than a separate entity.

To accomplish this, she set up a floor-to-ceiling curtain with a monitor-size rectangle cut into it. The curtain separates a small workspace with desk, chair and computer, from the robot and prop area.  The robot area is outfitted with pictures of such items as a flashlight, tarp, rope, and water. These objects are part of the desert survival task, an exercise that asks participants to imagine that they are stranded in desert and must select a limited number of survival-critical objects to salvage from their luggage.  In Victoria's experiment, participants used the surveillance robot Rovio, and were told to select their choices with the assistance of the robot.

Half of the participants were told that Rovio autonomously approached the selections they made, while other participants used a small mobile device to drive the robot to their item choices. Volunteers were also put into different viewpoint conditions. While some were able to see the robot directly through the rectangular window in the curtain, others watched the robot on a large monitor with the help of a webcam mounted in the robot area. Additionally, some participants carried out the study with an actual Rovio, while others were shown the entire setup in a simulation format.

This study aims to help uncover important insights on how robot autonomy, mediation, and virtuality affect people's behaviors and feelings about robots. With this increased understanding, we will be able to design and build robots that can be used more easily and effectively.