Robots are increasingly being used in our homes, from robot vacuums to help with cleaning to using voice-agents to play music. Especially for social robots such as Siri and Alexia which communicate with us, these robots take many different forms, from having human-like faces and features to static boxes that talk in human voices. Recently researchers have been interested in both the human and dogs behaviour to these social robots in our homes: how do dogs and human react to in-home robots, and what sort of robot do dogs and humans prefer? 

Dog and human interacting with NAO Robot for their study. Photo: Haruka Kasuga / Hokkaido University

While social robots have repeatedly been used in animal research to test an animal’s social behaviour, little is known about how dogs react to different robots in the household. Testing this, the scientists Haruka Kasuga and Yuichiro Ikeda from Hokkaido University in Japan evaluated the humans impressions and dogs behaviours to four different social robots: Google Home, NAO, Pepper and a Fake Dog. Haruka Kasuga highlights the importance of this research as “there can be risks that dogs displayed jealousy behaviour or that dogs feel afraid of the agents” and that this is “the first step to investigate the design of a communication agent that can build a good relationship with both dog-owners and dogs at home”. To study this, the human who lived with the dog would pet the robot agent while the robot talked to the human and the dog was free to watch or interact with the robot. 

Robots used in the study. Photo: Haruka Kasuga / Hokkaido University

Coding the behaviour of the dogs with professional dog trainers and analyzing the questionnaire answered by owners, the researchers found that the human disliked the fake dog robot the most, finding it has the lowest perceived intelligent and safety. Instead, the human preferred the humanoid robots (NAO and Pepper) as seeming more intelligent and more likeable overall. However, the dogs displayed more social behaviours with the dog-like robot interacting with it more, such as sniffing the rear of the robot dog.

In addition to these results, the researchers noted that the dogs’ size does not how close the dogs got to different robot agents but that larger and medium sized dogs would touch the social agents more. 

According to Haruka, these are initial results with more experiments needed on the agents different factors as the humanoid robots moved and the speakers did not. In the future, Haruka plans to look at if non-dog owners would prefer a dog speaker and if dog robots are easy to approach for dogs than human-like or smart speaker robots.

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More information: 

Haruka Kasuga,

Doctoral Candidate, Hokkaido University