The social accountability of an animaloid robot: organizing an O-space of humans, a dog, and a robot

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People ordinarily organize themselves in spatial positions in such a way, that embodied interaction is made possible. Kendon (1976) described this as an f-formation whereby people create a joint transactional space termed an o-space to which they alle have access. The f-formation is produced through co-operative spatial and postural actions by which people create and maintain this o-space. The organization of f-formations has been studied in human-robot-interaction (Due, 2021; Yousuf et al., 2019). But what happens in situations, where the robot has animaloid features and one of the agents in situ is a dog? This paper is based on video ethnographic data from an outside semi-experimental setting studying how the four-legged robot Spot, manufactured by Boston Dynamics, is used by visually impaired participants as a “guide dog” for navigation. The robot is semi-autonomous: controlled by a human operator (through mechanical steering) and with its own autonomously adjusting micro-movements based on its own sensors. The robot is autonomously responsive to humans (and other objects) through distance measurement and obstacle-avoidance scripts. The paper is based on an in-depth analysis of a single case in which seven people are engaged in the setting as researchers and observers along with two people with visual impairment, one of them with a guide dog. In setting that will be analyzed, the participants are talking about practical issues of the experiment such as the navigational route. The analytic focus is not on any single participant or non-human agent alone, but rather on the co-operative and jointly achieved reconfigurations of the o-space caused by the presence and mobility of the animaloid robot. The phenomenon studied is participants bodily actions and orientation to and verbally accounts for the dog’s orientation to the animaloid “robodog”. The data is analyzed using EMCA methodology and contributes to new understandings of human sociality as naturally embedded in contexts of non-human agents. The analytical findings are in particular used to discuss the social accountability of mobile robots’ spatial positions in o-spaces. This work thus contributes to EMCA studies of social robotics by exploring an un-researched type of robot (animaloid) and its participation status (Goffman, 1964) in social encounters.

Due, B. L. (2021). RoboDoc: Semiotic resources for achieving face-to-screenface formation with a telepresence robot. Semiotica, 238, 253–278.
Goffman, E. (1964). The Neglected Situation. American Anthropologist, 66(6), 133–136.
Kendon, A. (1976). The F-Formation System: The Spatial Organization of Social Encounters. Man-Environment Systems, 6, 291–296.
Yousuf, M. A., Kobayashi, Y., Kuno, Y., Yamazaki, K., & Yamazaki, A. (2019). Social interaction with visitors: Mobile guide robots capable of offering a museum tour. IEEJ Transactions on Electrical and Electronic Engineering, 14(12), 1823–1835.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateMar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022
EventInternational Workshop, “Museum, Multimodality and Embodiment, Sociological Robotics”
- Online
Duration: 22 Mar 202222 Mar 2022


ConferenceInternational Workshop, “Museum, Multimodality and Embodiment, Sociological Robotics”

ID: 327299127