We might be some way off convincing humans that robots are anything but, well, robots but it seems that dogs are far more accepting of mechanical interlopers.
A new study published in the journal Animal Cognition has shown that our canine friends are more than happy to interact socially with robots, following their cues and commands to find food even when the bot in question looks distinctly unwelcoming.
“The PeopleBot does not resemble a human, but looks rather like a piece of gym equipment with a white gloved hand attached to it,” notes the press release for the research, which was led by Gabriella Lakatos of the Hungarian Academy of Science and Eötvös Loránd University.
The study assembled 41 dogs, testing each in turn to see how they would react to the PeopleBot. Half of the dogs were exposed to PeopleBot in ‘social’ mode and the other half experienced ‘asocial’ interactions.
"In the ‘social group,’ one set of dogs watched an interaction between the owner and the human experimenter followed by observing a ‘social’ interaction between the owner and the robot. [...] These interactions were followed by sessions in which either the human experimenter or the robot pointed out the location of hidden food in both the ‘asocial’ and the ‘social’ groups."
In the 'social' environments the dogs' owners shook hands with PeopleBot and talked to it whilst walking around the room. The bot itself responded with pre-programmed audio clips of human voices and called the dog by its name. In the asocial tests the robot would only beep at the dog, with the owner ‘talking’ to it by typing on a keyboard.
In the social experiments, the canines seemed at home with the PeopleBot: "Dogs spent more time staying near the robot experimenter as compared to the human experimenter, with this difference being even more pronounced when the robot behaved socially," notes the study. "Similarly, dogs spent more time gazing at the head of the robot experimenter when the situation was social."
The research shows that whilst dogs are quite happy to interact with robots thankfully these friendly relations have to first be established by a human. Dog owners rest easy - in the eyes of your pet you're not completely replaceable.
The scientist behind the study also hope that their work will have more tangible benefits helping design the next generation of social robots. “Roboticists who design interactive robots should look into the sociality and behavior of their designs, even if they do not embody human-like characteristics,” said Lakatos.