Facilitation Robotics for Teams Foundational Research on Group Processes in Human-Robot Ensembles with Social Robots (S-FACTOR)

Social robots are artificial agents that can act autonomously within the physical and symbolic space of human social interaction--they are programmed to simulate the norm-guided social behavior of humans, including non-verbal and verbal communication.  Currently it is not yet well understood how people experience their interactions with such new 'social others', and in which ways this depends on the robot’s features, on human personalities, or tasks contexts. In particular, group processes in interactions with social robots have received little attention so far.

The project Facilitation Robotics for Teams--Foundational Research on Group Processes in Human-Robot Ensembles with Social Robots (S-FACTOR) investigates how human groups perform certain tasks when they are guided by a “social robot”.  Previous research suggests that certain robotic designs can be conducive for positive group dynamics. We conduct a series of experiments to explore whether social robots can facilitate group processes within small teams that enhance the team’s creativity and further “team reasoning,” i.e., rational decision making that benefits the team rather than some individual member of the team. In addition, some of our experiments focus on the role of a robot’s non-verbal behavior to create trust. 

The project will methodologically advance the research areas of “social robotics” and “human-robot interaction” since it integrates, for the first time, scientific perspectives that are required for an in-depth, analysis of individual experiences and group processes in human-robot ensembles, namely, philosophy (social phenomenology, social ontology), anthropology, linguistics, psychology, sociology, management, neuroscience, robotics, and computer science. We develop a new classificatory framework and associated measures for “types of experienced sociality” in human-robot interaction, to be linked with robotic designs, human behaviors, and neuroscience data.

Given the future economic significance of robotics, as envisaged in “industry 4.0” or “the automation age”, the project will produce insights with high practical relevance for human-robot coworking.  We follow the principles of “Integrative Social Robotics,” a strictly value-oriented approach, and for this reason focus on the use of robots as facilitators of human social interactions, and not as replacements of human actors.  The S-FACTOR project thus illustrates a pathway to responsible social robotics research.