If a robot asked you to touch its bum, how would you feel? The answer, according to a team of researchers from Stanford University, is 'aroused yet hesitant'.
In an experiment, a group of volunteers were rigged up with sensors that use moisture on the skin to measure physiological arousal and reaction time. They then put the volunteers individually into a room with a robot, which verbally instructed them to touch 13 different parts of its body.
Here's how it played out:
When volunteers were asked to touch the robot in "areas that people usually do not touch", like the eyes or buttocks, the data showed that their physiological arousal levels were higher, and they took longer to act, than when they were asked to touch areas like the hand or neck.
The point of all this? Well, touch in humans seems to be a kind of social 'glue' that helps people build relationships. Whether or not you're comfortable with someone touching you is often a good signifier of how much you trust them.
Manufacturers of robots want people to trust their creations, but very little research has been done on robot-human touching compared to other aspects of robots like their shape, speech and appearance.
The results of this experiment indicate that people tend to react the same way to robots as they would to other people.
"Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way," said Jamy Li, who worked on the experiment.
"Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts apply to a robot's body parts as well. This research has implications for both robot design and theory of artificial systems."
The researchers plan to present their experiment at the 66th Annual International Communication Association Conference in Fukuoka, Japan in June.