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Study Shows Children are Skeptical Toward Humanoid Robots

A new study focused on the interactions between children and robots was performed at the Norwegian research fair held in all major cities.

Image Credit: Phonlamai Photo/

The fair is a yearly national event that allows children to gain a better understanding of science and the work done by scientists.

Roger A. Søraa and his team of researchers from the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology set up three kinds of robots. Søraa focuses on individuals’ interactions and relationship with robots. The study involved children aged between 6 and 13 years.

Many nations—specifically Japan where Søraa had stayed for his research works—are turning their attention toward robots and how they can prove handy in elderly care, such as helping dementia patients with specific tasks and recalling things.

As the current discourse on social robots relates strongly to elderly care, it's interesting to learn what young people think about robots taking care of the elderly, especially in the context of their own older family members.

Roger A. Søraa, Researcher, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

The study titled “Children’s Perceptions of Social Robots: a study of the robots Pepper, AV1 and Tessa at Norwegian research fairs” was recently published in the AI & Society journal.

Three Completely Different Robots

At the research fair, the children had an opportunity to meet three kinds of robots. One was a human-like robot called Pepper that measures 120 cm in length and performs several different tasks.

Pepper, the humanoid, autonomous robot, is a sophisticated social robot that has been specifically developed as a personal assistant. It can talk and make simple conversations. However, in Norway, the robot finds it difficult to handle the many different dialects of the country, making it harder to grasp the Norwegian language.

On the other hand, the robot can dance and move around, and it can be trained to sense when someone falls and trigger an alarm system, for instance. The robot can also ensure the safety of elderly persons who are slightly frail and those who live alone.

Tessa the Flower Pot

Another robot, known as Tessa, has been merely designed as a flowerpot with eyes. But how could a simple flower pot contribute to elderly care? Tessa is actually a physical avatar for a home sensor system and has been designed for dementia patients who are living alone.

Tessa, for instance, can learn to identify the habits of an individual with whom it resides. Using sensors integrated into the refrigerator, the robot could learn that a specific person opens the fridge door and eats breakfast at 9 am daily.

But if the refrigerator were not opened at the same usual time, the robot would remind the person in question that it is now time to eat breakfast. Getting a reminder can be helpful, especially for dementia patients who tend to forget and become confused about time.

We’re now testing this in a dementia project at NTNU, and we’re observing that the robot quickly becomes part of the home, along with the normal flower pots. However, the sensor systems are what the relatives appreciate most.

Roger A. Søraa, Researcher, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Called AV1, the third robot is targeted at children who could not attend regular schools because they are physically not able to, for instance, when they are not well.

The AV1 school robot is designed similar to a head with eyes that track the classroom instruction. With the help of a mobile app, a student can control the AV1 from his or her home and thus keep a track of what is going on in the class.

Skeptical of Pepper

Our analysis is based on quantitative survey data from the children about the robots and on qualitative discussions with them at the research fair. By comparing three different types of social robots, we found that their presence can be understood differently based on their function, design and ‘aliveness’.

Roger A. Søraa, Researcher, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

However, the children were most skeptical toward the Pepper robot.

The children’s attitudes towards robots were relatively positive, curious and exploratory, but they thought Pepper was a little scary. It probably partly has to do with Pepper being quite big and the same height as some of the kids,” added Søraa.

When the robots have a clear task, like Tessa the flower pot robot and AV1 the teaching robot, they become less intimidating and easier to relate to since we can more readily understand what their task is. Research has also shown that the more a robot looks like a human, the more frightening it becomes,” Søraa further stated.

According to him, the phenomenon can be described by the Uncanny Valley hypothesis.

The Uncanny Valley hypothesis suggests that if the robots look more like humans, the acceptance criterion reduces. Individuals would feel “fooled” when they come to know that the robot is just a creature and not a human being.

However, in Japan, human-like robots are increasingly being accepted by people.

Tessa Best for Grandparents

The kids were typically positive toward robots and viewed them as an assistant that helps with different kinds of tasks for elderly persons. However, they were more skeptical when they were asked if their own grandparents could gain from such robots.

While 76% agreed that the Pepper robot could help elderly persons, only 60% believed that their own grandparents would gain from Pepper’s help.

This difference could potentially be explained by how the children perceive their own grandparents as relatively fit,” added Søraa.

I think they [robots] could help my great-grandfather because he is quite forgetful and he lives alone,” quoted one of the children.

This child thinks that the great-grandparents, but not the grandparents, could benefit from the robot, and it indicates that the child thinks the grandparents are too active to need robot help,” concluded Søraa.

It was observed that the kids were most positive about Tessa, the flower pot robot, as a helpful tool. Over 97% agreed that the Tessa robot could help elderly peope and 86% believed that the robot would be a handy feature in their own grandparents’ homes as well.

The kids liked the concept of a talking robotic plant or flower pot that had the particular task of reminding elderly persons of various other activities, including meals.

Journal Reference:

Søraa, R. A., et al. (2020) Children’s perceptions of social robots: a study of the robots Pepper, AV1 and Tessa at Norwegian research fairs. AI & Society.


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