Making Faces: What Sort of Face Should a Robot Have?

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Would you prefer a robot with a human appearance? Image by dantada

Would you prefer a robot with a human appearance? Image by dantada

Robot Faces: Focus on Age and Limitations of the Study

According to an article in Scientific American, promising products include robots designed to help care for the elderly with names like CareBot and RoboSoft,  These robots may help elders remain in their homes rather than being forced to move to an assisted-living facility or other managed-care environment.  The National Institutes of Health’s National Center on Aging funded the research by Prakash and Rogers, so it is understandable that the primary variable of interest was age.  However, preference for robot faces might vary by gender, educational level or ethnicity as well.  The study, which involved only 32 participants, was too small to include multiple variables.

One of the other limitations of this study is that it is unclear whether preferences change as people age, or if people born in different eras, cohorts, have different opinions on what is desirable.  In our interview with Prakash, the researcher stated, “Because we looked at two different age-cohorts, it is difficult to tease apart age-related differences from cohort or experience-based differences.”

 “The older age group sample in the study was represented by relatively healthy and considerably educated older adults living in the Atlanta metropolitan area of the United States… the younger age group was represented by the undergraduate students of Georgia Institute of Technology. Therefore, the degree to which less educated younger adults would resemble Georgia Tech younger adults in their perceptions of and preferences toward robot appearance remains unclear.”

Mechanical Caregivers: Questions for Future Research

Since the study was small, it was unable to untangle the possible preferences of individuals for robot faces based on factors besides age.  The author states, “Future research should assess how perceptions and preferences for robot appearance vary as a function of sex, race, education, and even culture. At this point, it is difficult to hypothesize the effects of such variables.”  Although, she did note that female robot faces were more popular than male faces overall.

Other factors to explore are “facial features, aesthetics, expressiveness, perceived personality, and perceived capability.” and the “relative weight” of each factor.

While Rosie had her charms, new personal care robots may be just that, more personal.  As the author noted in our interview, preferences for a particular type of robot face was stronger than she anticipated.  Rosies of the future may look more like a human nurse.

Resources

Horowitz, B. Cyber Care: Will Robots Help the Elderly Live at Home Longer? (2010). Scientific American. Accessed October 10, 2013.

Prakash, A. and Rogers, W. Younger and Older Adults’ Attitudes Toward Robot Faces: Effects of Task and Humanoid Appearance.  Paper presented at the  Human Factors and Aging Laboratory, in San Diego, October 2013.

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