Social Robots and the Production of Space: Exploring the Socio-Spatial Dimensions of Human-Robot Interaction

Abstract: This project investigates long-term human-robot interaction outside of controlled laboratory settings to better understand how the introduction of robots and the development of socially-aware behaviors work to transform the spaces of everyday life, including how spaces are planned and managed, used, and experienced. Focusing on tour-guiding robots in two museums, the research will produce nuanced insights into the challenges and opportunities that arise as social robots are integrated into new spaces to better inform future design, planning, and decision-making. It brings together researchers from human geography, robotics, and art to think beyond disciplinary boundaries about the possible futures of human-robot co-existence, sociality, and collaboration. Broader impacts of the project will include increased accessibility and engagement at two partner museums, interdisciplinary research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students, a short video series about the current state of robotic technology to be offered as a free educational resource, and public art exhibitions reflecting on human-robot interactions. This project will be of interest to scholars of Science and Technology Studies, Human Robotics Interaction (HRI), and human geography as well as museum administrators, educators and the general public. This interdisciplinary project brings together Science and Technology Studies, Human Robotics Interaction (HRI), and human geography to explore the production of social space through emerging forms of HRI. The project broadly asks: How does the deployment of social robots influence the production of social space—including the functions, meanings, practices, and experiences of particular spaces? The project is based on long-term ethnographic observation of the development and deployment of tour-guiding robots in an art museum and an earth science museum. A social roboticist will develop a socially-aware navigation system to add nuance to the robots’ socio-spatial behavior. A digital artist will produce digital representations of the interactions that take place in the museum, using the robot’s own sensor data and other forms of motion capture. A human geographer will conduct interviews with museum visitors and staff as well as ethnographic observation of the tour-guiding robots and of the roboticists as they develop the navigation system. They will produce an ethnographic analysis of the robots’ roles in the organization of the museums, everyday practices of museum staff and visitors, and the differential experiences of the museum space. The intellectual merits of the project consist of contributions at the intersections of STS, robotics, and human geography examining the value of ethnographic research for HRI, the development of socially-aware navigation systems, the value of a socio-spatial analytic for understanding emerging forms of robotics, and the role of robots within evolving digital geographies. This project is jointly funded by the Science and Technology Studies program in SBE and Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Program in EHR.


  • Organization: National Science Foundation
  • Award #: SES-2121387
  • Amount: $398,066
  • Date: Aug. 15, 2021 - July 31, 2024
  • PI: Prof. Casey Lynch
  • Co-PI: Dr. David Feil-Seifer

Supported Publications

  • Salek Shahrezaie, R., Manalo, B. L., Brantley, A., Lynch, C., & Feil-Seifer, D. Advancing Socially-Aware Navigation for Public Spaces . To Appear in International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN), Naples, Italy, Aug 2022. ( details )