Human-robot proximity

By Jessica Sorenson

What is human-robot proximity?

In the field of HRI, the current notion of human-robot proximity is understood as a measure of spatial proximity of a robot to a human. In REELER, we begin from the same notion of the physical distance between robot and human, but expand the notion to include the social, emotional, psychological, and operational distances.

We’ve observed that robot functionality is the central concern of texts on proximity, whether with regard to the appropriate distances maintained in order to achieve user acceptance, or with regard to successful and safe navigation in human-occupied spaces. We propose the focus on human-robot proximity can stretch beyond robot functionality to consider the effects of physical and social proximity on the human. While the texts thoroughly consider how the robot is affected by the presence of humans, there is a deficit of literature on how humans are affected by the presence of robots.

Potential impacts of robot implementation

We have identified a number of areas and understandings that might be affected by human-robot interaction, such as work-labour, economies, perceptions of human/self, and gender. If we look beyond the effects of human-robot proximity on human physical safety, successful robot navigation, and user acceptance, we might discover other human-related research concerns.

For example, our bodily orientations and trajectories might be affected by human-robot proximity in the workplace, as in logistics/warehouses where a computer system directs both human and robot workers. Other potential impacts of human-robot proximity include a changing workflow when robots relieve workers of tasks, a changing sense of self when robots are worn or implanted or when robots are presented as our counterparts.

How REELER can contribute

The potential effects of human-robot proximity on human life are significant. Accordingly, we suggest that by developing a broader understanding of human-robot proximity beyond the limited understanding of human proximity within the robotics field, by adding a focus on social proximity and a focus on the human as the object of interest, we can contribute to the field of human-robot interaction to include the direct and indirect ways in which humans and robots affect one another.