Oct. 9 - Dogs respond better to robots behaving in a social manner than those acting passively, according to Hungarian researchers. Their study of 41 dogs provides important insights into how future household robots might be designed to integrate not only with families, but also their pets. Jim Drury reports.
Dogs are happy to follow the commands of a robot, so long as it behaves socially, according to a new study. Researchers at Budapest's Eotvos Lorand University divided 41 dogs into two groups. An automoton called PeopleBot then helped those in both groups find hidden food. Half the dogs first observed PeopleBot shaking hands and interacting with their owners, while the other group saw the android behaving passively. Lead author Gabriella Lakatos says unlike humans, dogs have no preconceptions about how robots should behave, so the results were revealing. SOUNDBITE (Hungarian) ETHOLOGIST GABRIELLA LAKATOS SAYING: "What we found was that dogs behaved more socially towards socially behaving robots, they understood better the communication intentions and signals of the robot if the robot behaved socially with them, or if beforehand they could watch a social interaction between their owners and the robot." Lakatos says she thinks the research will help robot designers produce machines that can integrate more naturally with both families and their pets in household settings. SOUNDBITE (Hungarian) ETHOLOGIST GABRIELLA LAKATOS SAYING: "The results of this experiment showed that social behaviour is very important in the development of social robots and it's a good direction to develop more socially behaving robots." The experiment also showed that friendly relations between a dog's owner and PeopleBot were a prerequisite to forging an animal-machine relationship. So, rather than feeling threatened by future robotic rivals, Lakatos says dog owners can rest easy knowing that for now, at least, a dog remains man's best friend.