To help or not to help a service robot
Bystander intervention as a resource in human–robot collaboration
A mobile service robot performing a task for its user(s) might not be able to accomplish its mission without help from other people present in the shared environment. In previous research, collaborative control has been studied as an interactive mode of operation with a robot, compensating for its limitations in autonomy. However, few studies of robots requesting assistance by detecting potential collaborators, directing its attention to them, addressing them, and finally obtaining help from them, have previously been performed in real-world use contexts. This study focuses on a fetch-and-carry robot, Cero, which has been designed to operate in an office environment as an aid for motion-impaired users. During its missions, the robot sometimes needs help with loading or unloading an object. The main question for the study was: under what conditions are people willing to help when requested to do so by the robot? We were particularly interested in bystanders, i.e. people who happened to be in the environment but who did not “have any official business” with the robot (they neither knew anything about the robot, nor did they have access rights to the robot or its functions). To answer these questions and to provide a better understanding of human–robot help-seeking situations, we conducted an experimental study in which subjects who had not encountered our service robot before were requested to assist it with a task. The results of the study confirm that bystanders can to some degree be expected to help in robot missions, but that their willingness to help the robot depends on the situation and state of occupation that people are in when requested to interact with and assist the robot.
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