Interactive Technology and Proxemics

Friday, November 15, 2013
Researchers at Toyohashi Tech in Japan are using robotic social trash bins to investigate how humans and robots interact with each other. These interactive trash receptacles attempt to encourage children to pick up nearby waste and dump it into the bin. The ultimate goal of the project, however, is to improve relations between high-tech automated devices and humans. More than one interactive technology blog is buzzing about the implications of this research. For creative technology Pittsburgh, interactive tech is usually about improving human-to-human interaction, but what if researchers could improve the way humans interact emotionally with programmable technology? The implications for future technology and artificial intelligence are exciting.

The Science of Proxemics

Humans react with each other according to a complicated set of factors that include age, culture and gender among many other things. These factors work to create boundaries in our everyday behaviors and attitudes. The science of proxemics studies how humans react with others within certain spheres of distance. Public distance is the sphere of strangers and large public gatherings. Social distance is where humans speak among co-workers and acquaintances. Personal distance involves slight touching and close communication between friends and family members. Intimate distance is for close embraces and whispering. Certain forms of digital communication, like an interactive technology blog, exist completely outside these spheres, but some forms of technological interaction do invade personal and intimate spaces.

How Proxemics Affects Technology

Proxemics is important for creative technology Pittsburgh because human interaction with devices is often governed by the same rules as interpersonal interactions. The researchers at Toyohashi Tech observed how children aged 4 to 11 reacted differently to the social trash boxes depending on the behavior of the robots. They were interested in learning if robots could exhibit effective social cues and behaviors to encourage interaction with the children. The results of the study showed that children reacted differently when the trash robots moved individually or acted in a swarm. Robot behavior affected how close children were willing to get, effectively influencing their reaction bubbles. A trash robot that entered the personal space of child without exhibiting the right cues or behaviors resulted in ineffective communication.

Implications of This Research

How humans interact with technology is as important as any type of technical specification. If a device violates a human's space, it is essentially ineffective. Most humans intuitively know appropriate behavior and social cues within any given personal sphere, but translating that intuition into programming is difficult. By creating variables in the behavior of robots that interact with children, the Toyohashi researchers have been able to observe how specific robot actions affect proxemic responses. This type of research could have a big impact on the development of artificial intelligence. The more technology can connect with humans on an emotional level the more real it will seem. Being able to react to and engage with human emotions is a major characteristic of A.I. shown in science fiction. As technology becomes a part of everyday life more and more, it's important for high-tech manufacturers to create products that work with natural human behavior, not against it.


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