Research on child-robot interaction

In the context of the HUMAINT (Human behaviour and machine intelligence) project, we research on the impact that social robots have on children. In this context, I have had the chance to carry out my first research on the amazing field of child-robot interaction, thanks to the collaboration with Vicky Charisi, Luis Merino and their lab at Universidad Pablo Olavide and Honda Research Institute Japan.

Running a user study with children and robots is very challenging from a technical perspective, and  analysing their data is challenging as well.  We just published in frontiers the result of our first study, where we experimented with two strategies for child-robot interaction in a problem solving task: turn taking and child-initiated interaction, and we showed the need for this voluntary interaction. You can check the details below. It is amazing to learn and contribute to research on this topic!

Child-Robot Collaborative Problem-Solving and the Importance of Child’s Voluntary Interaction: A Developmental Perspective

Vicky Charisi, Emilia Gomez, Gonzalo Mier, Luis Merino and Randy Gomez

Abstract: The emergence and development of cognitive strategies for the transition from exploratory actions towards intentional problem-solving in children is a key question for the understanding of the development of human cognition. Researchers in developmental psychology have studied cognitive strategies and have highlighted the catalytic role of the social environment. However, it is not yet adequately understood how this capacity emerges and develops in biological systems when they perform a problem-solving task in collaboration with a robotic social agent. This paper presents an empirical study in a human-robot interaction (HRI) setting which investigates children’s problem-solving from a developmental perspective. In order to theoretically conceptualize children’s developmental process of problem-solving in HRI context, we use principles based on the intuitive theory and we take into consideration existing research on executive functions with a focus on inhibitory control. We considered the paradigm of the Tower of Hanoi and we conducted an HRI behavioral experiment to evaluate task performance. We designed two types of robot interventions, “voluntary” and “turn-taking”—manipulating exclusively the timing of the intervention. Our results indicate that the children who participated in the voluntary interaction setting showed a better performance in the problem solving activity during the evaluation session despite their large variability in the frequency of self-initiated interactions with the robot. Additionally, we present a detailed description of the problem-solving trajectory for a representative single case-study, which reveals specific developmental patterns in the context of the specific task. Implications and future work are discussed regarding the development of intelligent robotic systems that allow child-initiated interaction as well as targeted and not constant robot interventions.


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