Social robot is an autonomous robot that interacts and communicates with humans or other autonomous physical agents by following social behaviors and rules attached to its role.
Like other robots, a social robot is physically embodied. Some synthetic social agents are designed with a screen to represent the head or ‘face’ to dynamically communicate with users. In these cases, the status as a social robot depends on the form of the ‘body’ of the social agent; if the body has and uses some physical motors and sensor abilities, then the system could be considered a robot.
While robots have often been described as possessing social qualities, social robotics is a fairly recent branch of robotics. Since the early 1990s artificial intelligence and robotics researchers have developed robots which explicitly engage on a social level. Notable researchers include Cynthia Breazeal, Tony Belpaeme, Aude Billard, Kerstin Dautenhahn, Yiannis Demiris or Hiroshi Ishiguro.
Social interactions are likely to be cooperative, but the definition is not limited to this situation. Moreover, uncooperative behavior can be considered social in certain situations.
The robot could, for example, exhibit competitive behavior within the framework of a game.
The robot could also interact with a minimum or no communication. It could, for example, hand tools to an astronaut working on a space station. However, it is likely that some communication will be necessary at some point.
Designing an autonomous social robot is particularly challenging, as the robot needs to correctly interpret people’s action and respond appropriately, which is currently not yet possible. Moreover, people interacting with a social robot may hold very high expectancies of its capabilities, based on science fiction representations of advanced social robots. As such, many social robots are partially or fully remote controlled to simulate advanced capabilities.
Social robots have been used increasingly in healthcare settings and recent research has been exploring the applicability of social robots as mental health interventions for children. A scoping review analyzed the impacts that robots such as Nao, Paro, Huggable, Tega and Pleo have on children in various intervention settings.
Results from this work highlighted that depression and anger may be reduced in children working with social robots, however anxiety and pain yielded mixed results. Distress was found to be reduced in children who interacted with robots.
Finally, this scoping review found that affect was positively impacted by interaction with robots–such that children smiled for longer and demonstrated growth-mindsets when playing games. It is worth noting that robots have increased benefits in that they can be used instead of animal-assisted therapy for children who are allergic or immunocompromised.
The increasingly widespread use of more advanced social robots is one of several phenomena expected to contribute to the technological posthumanization of human societies, through which process “a society comes to include members other than ‘natural’ biological human beings who, in one way or another, contribute to the structures, dynamics, or meaning of the society.”