How emotions affect human-robot interactions

Robots are becoming more and more present in our daily lives, especially in crowded and dynamic environments. But how do they know how to behave around us? How do they respect our social norms and personal boundaries? And how do our emotions influence the way we interact with them?

These are some of the questions that we, as researchers in robotics, are trying to answer. We want to create robots that can co-exist and collaborate with humans naturally and seamlessly. To do that, we need to understand how humans interact with each other and with robots, and how to incorporate those rules into the robot’s behaviour.

One of the most important aspects of human interaction is proxemics, which is the study of how people use and perceive the physical space around them. Proxemics defines different zones of personal space, such as intimate, personal, social, and public, that vary depending on the context and the relationship between the people involved. For example, you would feel comfortable standing close to your friend, but not to a stranger. You would also expect more space when you are working on a task, than when you are having a casual conversation.

Researchers have tried to apply these concepts to robots, by creating dynamic shapes around humans that represent their personal space, working space, and social space and by making the robot detect and respect those zones. However, there is more to proxemics than just distance. Our emotions also play a role in how we perceive and use the space around us. For instance, when we are happy, we tend to be more open and approachable, while when we are sad, we tend to isolate ourselves and seek comfort.

Together with my colleague from the PERSEO project, @Francesco Vigni, we are investigating how emotions affect proxemics in human-robot interactions. We are conducting experiments where we manipulate the emotional state of the participants and observe how they react to a robot approaching them. We want to find out if the robot should adapt its behaviour according to the person’s emotions, and if that would make the interaction more pleasant and acceptable.

We believe that human emotions are crucial for a robot’s navigation and path planning, as they can provide valuable information about the person’s preferences and expectations. By taking emotions into account, we hope to create robots that can interact with humans in a more empathetic and socially aware way.

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