Love, hate and a hospital robot
When a box-like robot called TUG went to work in local hospitals carrying drugs between wards, Bilge Mutlu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, had a chance to see how people react to a robot colleague.
TUG, which is made by Aethon, can navigate a building’s corridors and elevators on its own and tell humans it has arrived with a delivery. Mutlu found that reactions to it were strong, and mixed.
Staff in the post-natal ward loved the robot. “I think it is a delight,” said one worker, while another called it “my buddy”, adding, “I like him. I like him a lot.”
But people on the oncology ward weren’t impressed, saying that TUG was extremely annoying.
The fact that the robot couldn’t tell if it was a good time to interrupt and announce its presence was a big problem for some people, as one member of the nursing staff described: “I called it nasty names and told it, ‘Would you shut the hell up? Can’t you see I’m on the phone? If you say “TUG has arrived” one more time I’m going to kick you in your camera.’ ”
Some staff members actually did lash out and kick TUG in frustration, more admitted to considering it.
The lack of any social awareness led interviewees to complain that they felt “disrespected” by the robot. “It doesn’t have the manners we teach our children,” said one, “I find it insulting that I stand out of the way for patients… but it just barrels right on.”
Luckily for TUG, its unvarying, one-size-fits-all social skills happened to be a natural fit in the relaxed atmosphere of the post-natal ward, says Mutlu. But the same default settings were interpreted as demanding and attention-seeking on the oncology ward, which is a more stressful and busy place to work. “If you are going to design robots with human-like capabilities you have to design the appropriate social behaviour that goes along with it,” Mutlu says.
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