Putting Eyes on a Robot Stopped People from Abusing It

Robotic librarian in Helsinki gets new googly eyes to combat abuse


As robots begin becoming part of our everyday lives, challenges in the human/robot relationship emerge as well. Robot abuse is one such challenge, but a pair of googly eyes on a robotic librarian in Helsinki might point to a solution.

Robot abuse is real, American business magazine Fast Company writes. Robots begin performing their jobs in human spaces and are not always welcome. This too was the case for a Finnish library robot – until the installment of googly eyes and other human-like features helped stop the abuse.

Recognizing robots as social beings

The Finnish robot performed its job of guiding visitors to their desired book sections just fine, according to the article. However, visitors didn’t connect with it as a social being. They saw it as just some box on wheels and did, on several occasions, proceeded to jump on it and impede its work in other ways.

To invoke a sense of ‘life’ in the robot, the library provided it with a pair googly eyes and a range of sounds and movements to mimic simple emotions. This helped give the robot some personality, making it more pleasant to be around. And the abuse stopped.

Human-like features help clearly communicating a function

There was a clear goal in not making the library robot too humanoid, according to roboticist Minja Axelsson, who designed and coded the robot. The added features have to match the robot’s level of sophistication and its environment. In this case, googly eyes fit perfectly with the role of simply guiding people around, and they help communicate the limits of the little helper as well.

The article points to studies and cases of robots being equipped with eyes or face-like features to better their interactions with humans. One such example includes adding eyes to a driverless car to help pedestrians know that the car has “seen them”, i.e. registered their presence.

The story of the Finnish robot and its googly eyes might point to a way of solving the problem of robot abuse. Humanoid features might help robots in the sphere of the social, making them more pleasant to be around.