Treating Texai Pilots Like Part of the Team!

Irene Rae from the University of Wisconsin Madison spent the summer of 2011 exploring ways to change the behavior in human robot interaction (HRI). Irene worked with the Texai that reduces the need for remote employees to travel to attend meetings or to spend long hours commuting to the office.

The person working remotely pilots the Texai and works with locals in the office. Locals sometimes treat the Texai as an object and rest their feet on the base, invade the pilot's sense of personal space, block the cameras, or stand where the pilot cannot see them. In other cases, locals ran away when they heard the robot coming or instead put "Kick me" signs on it. This treatment of the robot and pilot are symptomatic of infrahumanization, which is the tendency to treat someone thought of as an out-group member as less human than those viewed as part of the in group.

The study looked at how pilots of the Texai could be treated more like in-group members and humans rather than out-group members. The study tested ways to change this behavior through design or situational framing. To get locals to treat the pilot like part of the group, Irene Rei tested how decorating the Texai with the team's colors improved the pilot’s treatment. In another case, Irene spent time testing how verbally framing the situation with participants improved the HRI.

Increasing in-group feelings between the locals and the pilot can lead to better behavior toward the pilot, and higher levels of cooperation, collaboration, and team efficiency.