[Written by Jürgen Brandstetter] Before picking back up from the previous 2 posts Working out While Working and Fidgebot, by the Numbers here is a recap of Fidgebot. During our internships, Noah Liebman and I developed a game based system to motivate people to be more physically active at work via standing desks & micro-exercises. The system included: a desktop app for goal setting and logging achievements; a public display of individual & team progress, and a notification system to help players meet their goals.
This post covers the one team (out of 4 teams) that had a social humanoid robot called NAO in place of desktop notifications. The goal was to find out how a social robot would subjectively and objectively change individual and group behavior in this context. Given our 2.5 week pilot, objectively there wasn’t any measurable performance difference between the teams’ with desktop notifications vs. the team with the humanoid robot notification. Subjectively, there was a great difference in terms of engagement. In the words of my old Professor Peter Purgathofer: “If we could not change any measurable results, but people are happier now, when using it, we did our job right.”
How it works
The Movers, a NYC based team, were reminded to exercise via “female” NAO robot. Periodically NAO would stand up and approach a player who needed motivation to do their micro-exercises.
Next, NAO invited the player to exercise with her.
The player could select her right or left hand to indicate yes or no. If the player selected yes, NAO would begin a fairly easy micro-exercise, and would expect the player to do it as well.
If the player responded no, NAO would do the exercise alone. And finally, NAO walked back to her place.
Why a Robot
Building on my existing research designing humanoid social robot experiments, we decided to use one in Fidgebot as it is designed to trigger natural human behavior. We wanted to test this distinction between the conventional notification system.
There were some big differences between NAO and the screen based notifications. NAO is loud, any nearby player instantly hears her beginning to approach them. Moving objects grasp our attention better than static objects. NAO calls players by their real name. It’s well known that using a persons name is highly persuasive - it triggers the “cocktail party effect”. Finally, it is harder to ignore a real world entity that approaches you at your desk in front of others.
Having a companion, in this case NAO, creates multiple additional benefits.
- Making individually socially unacceptable behaviors acceptable by being in a group.
- Performing ridiculous movements with a partner in an open space office environment feels much less embarrassing than doing them alone.
- A sad robot when you decline a short exercise break provokes guilt in a player.
What We Learned
Looking back at Noah’s last post, and comparing the robot group with the groups only using desktop notifications, we can not see any major difference in the amount of micro-exercises and time spent standing at their desks. However this should not create the impression that the robot had no impact overall. Qualitative feedback and observation told a different story.
We have learned that players were more engaged if they interacted with the robot than the desktop notification system.
"I like the Robot because it makes me excited" - [Player 3]
Some people even projected feelings into NAO:
"When participant 1 rejected NAO I actually felt bad for the robot" - [Player 3].
The interviews revealed some unexpected behaviors. Players began mimicking NAOs gestures and way of sitting. NAO’s presence and interactions “forced” each one in the group to participate in often ridiculous tasks, breaking down hierarchical social barriers which was positively perceived by the players and led to more casual team communication.
Next up: Noah and I are summarizing what we learned developing and deploying this project in a CHI Work In Progress paper.