Informatik, TU Wien

Sociability vs Utility – Where are we heading in Social Robotics?

This talk will focus around a question that is recently more and more present in my head: What are actual useful tasks for Social Robots in future?


My talk will focus around a question that is recently more and more present in my head: What are actual useful tasks for Social Robots in future? I will present an overview on my 10 years of research on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). Being a sociologist in training, I have started my work in HRI in trying to define from a sociological perspective, if robots can be social by definition. I will explain to what degree robots can fulfil the sociological criteria of "social", namely forms of grouping, binding, mutuality, and reflexivity. I will continue with the presentation of use cases for Social Robotics in projects I was involved and will reflect on the usefulness of the robot's task in relation to the focus on social cues for intuitive and natural interaction. I will present selected studies of the FP7 EU project "The Interactive Urban Robot (IURO)" and FP7 EU project "HOBBIT - The mutual care robot. The goal of IURO was to find the way to a designated place in town without any previous map knowledge, just by retrieving information from asking pedestrians for directions. The goal of the Hobbit robot was to enable older people to stay longer in their homes, following three main criteria: (1) Emergency detection and handling, (2) fall prevention, (3) providing a "feeling of being safe and supported". Reflecting on these exemplary studies will lead to the ethical implications of Social Robot design, especially the potential risks involved when designing robots that show "artificial attachment". I will present the Triple-A Model for ethical risk identification including a first taxonomy we developed in order to classify existing Social Robotics use cases.
My talk will close with a discussion on how the utility of a robot and its sociability interrelate and on future application areas for Social Robots. This will involve thoughts on (1) how technology determinism shapes our use cases for Social Robotics, (2) why sociability is not self-sufficient for a robot to be accepted and sustainably used, and (3) how we can take a step back and think a bit more out of the box what reasonable useful jobs Social Robots could do for us in future, going beyond the multifunctional housekeeper scenario.


I am a senior researcher at Vienna University of Technology (Austria). My current research focuses on Long-term Human-Robot Interaction with service/companion robots. My general research interests are user-centered design and evaluation studies for Human-Computer Interaction and Human-Robot Interaction with a focus on in-the-wild studies and controlled experiments. I am especially interested in the impact technology has on our everyday life and what makes people accept or reject technology. I hold a master’s degree in sociology and a PhD in social sciences from the University of Salzburg. During my studies I specialized on methodologies of empirical social research and applied statistics. Before my position in Vienna I was a postdoc researcher at the HCI&Usability Unit, of the ICT&S Center, University of Salzburg, Austria and at the Christian Doppler Laboratory on “Contextual Interfaces” at University of Salzburg. From September 2011 until January 2012 I was on a short-term sabbatical at the University of Amsterdam, Intelligent Systems Lab and the University of Twente, HMI group to work with Vanessa Evers on Cross-Cultural studies in Human-Robot Interaction. I publish in conferences such as HRI, RO-MAN, and ICSR and journals such as the International Journal of Social Robotics, Autonomous Robots, and the Journal of HRI. I am regularly member of Program and Organizing Committees related to HRI research.



This lecture organized by the Human-Computer Interaction Group at TU Wien.