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What makes a good social robot? The answer might surprise you

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Making a good first impression is important to many people – and it turns out it’s also something you need to think about when it comes to social robots, or robots designed for interpersonal interactions with humans.

New research out of the University of Waterloo’s Social and Intelligent Robotics Research Lab has found that people prefer robots that seem similar to themselves.

The study, done by professors Moojan Ghafurian and Kersten Dautenhahn, asked 95 people to rate pictures of 11 different robots on some key characteristics like how good, active and powerful they appeared.

Participants then had to rate themselves on the same traits and say how interested they would be in working with the various robots in a health care setting.

The results were interesting.

“The closer they rated the robot to themselves, the more interested they were to use it in a health care scenario,” says Ghafurian.

Nao, a robot from the University of Waterloo Social and Intelligent Robotics Research Lab, whose image was used as part of the study. (Krista Simpson/CTV Kitchener)

The information could help fine-tune robots in the future.

“We want them to be successful, so we want them to be personalizable, which means to adjust their personality and interactions based on each individual,” Ghafurian explains.

Social robots could one day be used in numerous other settings too, including education. Masters student Andrea Chakma, who is also studying social robots, says the potential ranges from using robots to help children improve their spelling, to reminding older people to take their medications throughout the day.

Nao, a robot from the University of Waterloo Social and Intelligent Robotics Research Lab, whose image was used as part of the study. (Krista Simpson/CTV Kitchener)

Ghafurian is particularly interested in how robots could help older adults, including people with dementia.


Chakma says good first impressions are especially important as people become familiar with the idea of social robots in real life, and not just how they’re portrayed in fiction.

“Oftentimes we see robots portrayed as sometimes scary, sometimes things that we don't understand, things that we don't recognize,” says Chakma. “So if a robot, at first glance, can make a really good impression for you and you can connect with that robot, then it makes you feel a lot more at ease and a lot more comfortable when you're actually interacting with it.”

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