Kids love to touch things and often play rough. This is usually fine when the thing is a toy, but it
can be a problem when the thing is a robot.
It seems like it’s an inevitability when kids (or
even some adults) meet a robot for the first time:
They want to see what it can do and how it reacts
to things. That can result in some behaviors and
interactions that would be pretty upsetting if they
were targeted at something alive.
At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on
Human Robot Interaction (HRI) in Chicago this
year, researchers from Naver Labs and Seoul
National University in South Korea presented a
robot called Shelly, which is designed to teach
children to be more careful with robots. The idea is
to reduce or eliminate aggressive behaviors when
interacting with the device.
Shaped like a tortoise, Shelly is fun to play with,
unless you smack it. If you do, the robot hides inside its
shell until it’s safe to come out again.
Shelly is designed to be large enough that five to
seven children (under 13 years old or so) can interact
with it simultaneously. Shelly’s shell (the top part) has
embedded LEDs along with vibration sensors that can
detect touches and impacts.
Shelly’s body consists of a cute little head and four
limbs that wiggle around — all of which can be retracted
back inside the shell. Using its LEDs and limbs, Shelly
conveys different emotional states including happy, sulky,
angry, and frightened. The frightened behavior gets
triggered when a kid hits, kicks, or lifts the robot. When
that happens, Shelly retracts inside its shell and stays there
for 14 seconds.
Before playing with Shelly, children are explicitly told
that if they abuse the robot, it will get scared and hide for
a little bit. The researchers weren’t testing whether the
hiding behavior itself would make the kids less abusive;
rather, they figured the most significant effect would come
from the robot being much less fun to play with while it
Results showed that Shelly’s hiding technique was
able to significantly reduce children’s abusive behavior,
relative to how they acted when the robot didn’t hide at
all. When they tried reducing the hiding length from 14
seconds to seven, abuse actually increased because the
hiding behavior itself was seen as a reward.
A longer hiding length of 28 seconds caused the kids
to get bored and leave, defeating the purpose of the
robot. Another interesting part of the effectiveness came
from the fact that in groups, children will mutually restrain
When Shelly is “happy,” bright colors illuminate its
shell [left]. When it’s “sad,” it hides its head and
disables the lights for 14 seconds [right].
Images courtesy of Naver Labs.
SERVO 05/06.2018 25
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This timid techno tortoise teaches toddlers tempered touching.