Idea Competition

Potentials and Limitations of Social Robots in Societies

Empirical Study

A baby seal robot called PARO has played a prominent role in animal therapy in hospitals and senior citizen homes in Japan and Europe since 2003. PARO has become the darling of many patients successfully replacing living animals. If the demand for social robots like PARO was to increase, the robot-human interactions will expand social and cultural communication patterns.

With the advances in robotics and affective computing, the relationship between robots and humans in society is changing. The combination of context-awareness, motoric skills, and affective behavior opens a wide field for robotic assistants or even robotic companions. Films like WALL-E (2008) or Her (2013) show that robots or artificial intelligence are no longer just means to an end but start to be seen as cultural entities.

Are we ready for 'social robots'?

Do areas like care, health, and entertainment really benefit from machines using sensors and artificial intelligence to establish 'affectionate interaction' with humans?
If social robots are becoming our pets and even our caregivers, we need to determine the technological, societal, and ethical potentials and limitations of their usage. Under which conditions can robots become companions and what are the ethical issues that might arise in such a human-robot companionship? While such questions have been addressed on a theoretical level by social sciences and computer science, empirical studies are rare. This is especially true when it comes to intercultural studies.

With the comparative study conducted in this AGYA project, a pilot study for future international projects in the area of social robotics has been conducted. The project addressed questions such as: Do people from Arab countries prefer robotic companions in housekeeping functions while people in Germany prefer them as caregivers? Are there different perceptions related to gender? Does the acceptance of social robots correlate positively with income and education?

The study

Based on a survey with 794 participants from Germany and Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the cultural influences on the preferences attributes were examined. Preferences differ not only across cultures but also within countries with similar cultural backgrounds. The findings also show a nuanced picture of the impact of previously identified culturally variable factors, such as attitudes toward traditions and innovations. While the participants’ perspectives toward traditions and innovations varied, these factors did not fully account for the cultural variations in their perceptions of social robots. Besides focusing on the impact of broader cultural values such as those associated with religion and traditions, future studies should examine how users interact or avoid interaction, with robots within specific contexts of use.


AGYA/Sammler&Jäger GmbH

Disciplines Involved
Computer science; Mechanical engineering; Biomechanics; Social sciences; Ethics
Cooperation Partner
University of Applied Sciences Offenburg, Germany
Project Title
Perspectives on Social Robots. An Arab-German Study & Conference on Potentials and Limitations
Funding Scheme
Idea Competition
Countries Involved
Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia
AGYA Publication
Social Robots: Technological, Societal and Ethical Aspects of Human-Robot Interaction
Understanding Cultural Preferences for Social Robots: A Study in German and Arab Communities
Social Robots – A Science Comic

What are Social Robots?

Social Robots are on the rise, but will they be part of our society just a few years from now or is this all just science-fiction? The Affective and Cognitive Institute (ACI) of the Offenburg University of Applied Sciences explains what social robots are and how they can be used. The video is in German with English subtitles.

Video Cover