Is a soft robot more “natural”? Exploring the perception of soft robotics in human-robot interaction

Jonas Jørgensen*, Kirsten Borup Bojesen, Elizabeth Ann Jochum

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Soft robotics technology has been proposed for a number of applications that involve human-robot interaction. It is commonly presumed that soft robots are perceived as more natural, and thus more appealing, than rigid robots, an assumption that has not hitherto been tested or validated. This study investigates human perception of and physical interaction with soft robots as compared with rigid robots. Using a mixed-methods approach, we conducted an exploratory study to study in close detail whether soft robots are perceived as more natural, and what types of interactions soft robots encourage. In a between-subjects study, participants interacted with a soft robotic tentacle or a rigid robot of a similar shape. The interactions were video recorded, and data was also obtained from questionnaires (Nvideo=123, Nquest=94). Despite their drastically different appearances and materials, we found no significant differences in how appealing or natural the robots were rated to be. Appeal was positively associated with perceived naturalness in all cases, however we observed a wide variation in how participants define “natural”. Although participants showed no clear preference, qualitative analysis of video data indicates that soft robots and rigid robots elicit different interaction patterns and behaviors. The findings highlight the key role of physical embodiment and materiality in human-robot interaction, and challenge existing assumptions about what makes robots appear natural.
TidsskriftInternational Journal of Social Robotics
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 9. feb. 2021

Bibliografisk note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • soft robotics
  • human-robot interaction
  • naturalness
  • design aesthetics


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