Social Positioning for Small Mobile Robotic Objects

Title:Social Positioning for Small Mobile Robotic Objects
Institute:University of Twente (HMI)
Place:Enschede The Netherlands
Type:final project
Start date:1 februari 2017
End date:not present
HMI ContactJered VroonCristina Zaga


Robots are slowly becoming more prevalent in our daily lives, with small robotic objects forming the forefront. Existing commercial examples range from robot vacuum cleaners (Roomba), to robotic information providers (Nabaztag), as well as many different robotic toys (Dash, Dot, Cozmo, BB-8, etcetera). The majority of these robots is small and mobile.

Though the aplications are diverse, a central question for any mobile robot is that of social positioning; how should it position itself with respect to the people with which it interacts? Much of the prior work in this direction focuses on human-sized robots, building on prior work in human-human interaction. For example, proxemics (first coined by sociologist Edward T. Hall) describes different social distances depending on familiarity, gender, and other factors – and similar social distances have been found for interactions with different human-sized robots.

Intuitively, social positioning for small robots can work in fascinating and diverse ways. Where it might be threatening if a large robot got really close, similar behaviour from a small robot may instead be seen as enthousiastic or endearing – which bears similarity to the way in which proxemics does not seem to apply as strictly to (playing) children. A variety of factors could play a role in the appropriateness of social positioning behaviours for small robots; functionality, dynamics of the interaction, interpretation of the (non-verbal) behaviour, etcetera.

So how does social positioning work for small robots? What could different social positioning behaviours communicate, and how? How are these behaviours perceived by different users? Despite the prevalence of small robots and the wide range of possible dynamics, prior (fundamental) work in this direction is limited.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, will be to further investigate the workings of social positioning for small mobile robotic objects interacting with humans. Depending on your interests, you can focus on either designing and conducting clear and clean experiments and/or designing a set of suitable robot behaviours.

Interested? Want to know more? Contact us by sending an email to and .