A dog reaction to an AIBO, an AIBO with fur, a remote-controlled car and a puppy

Kubinyi, E. , Miklosi, A. Kaplan, F. Gacsi, M. Topal, J. Csanyi, V. (2004) Social behaviour of dogs encountering AIBO, an animal-like robot in a neutral and in a feeding situation; Behavioural Processes, 65(3) : 231-239. The paper is an intriguing account of applying robotics in animal behavior test. The goals of these ethologists is to determine whether the a dog-like robot of the Sony can be used to study animal interactions.

"Twenty-four adult and sixteen 4–5 months old pet dogs were tested in two situations where subjects encountered one of four different test-partners: (1) a remote controlled car; (2) an AIBO robot; (3) AIBO with a puppy-scented furry cover; and (4) a 2-month-old puppy. In the neutral situation the dog could interact freely with one of the partners for 1 min in a closed arena in the presence of its owner. In the feeding situation the encounters were started while the dog was eating food."

The results shows that age and context influence the social behaviour of dogs. Moreover, the furry AIBO semed to evoke a higher number of responses in comparison to the car. Other aspects that I found of interest, as described by the authors:

A social partner is not only the carrier of species-specific characters to evoke behaviour on the part of the subject but also actively reacts to the actions of the other. In order to mimic interactive situations, the robot has to be able to detect and react to, at least, some elements of the environment that it shares with the tested animal (...) AIBO did not turn out to be a ‘real’ social partner for the dogs in all respects, but the change of its appearance, the improvement of its movements and speed could make this possible. (...) A further interesting question is whether puppies with experience restricted only to the robot (AIBO “raised” dog-litters) would consider the robot as a social partner.

Why do I blog this? working on a near future laboratory project with julian, I am gathering some material about pet-technology interactions. In this article, I was interested less by the idea of using a robot for behavioral tests (ethology is not my concern) but rather about this sort of study reveal about interactions between pets and technologies.