Yooyoung Ko
2015-05-20 14.29.09.jpg

Lost Nebula


Human-Robot Interaction  2015





Team Members

Ron Kim
Vivek Pai
Charlie Burlingham
Alex Mark

My Role

Interaction design
Robot design + build

Project overview

As part of a project for a robotics course at Carnegie Mellon University, we designed and constructed an assistive robot — Janitobot, whose purpose was to clean the floors of a campus building — to study how various conditions can affect empathy in human-robot interaction. In this experiment, the robot feigned malfunction and requested assistance from people passing by. While varying the robot's level of autonomy, we evaluated the willingness of people to help.


Footage of Janitobot in action. Experiment was conducted in a hallway with high traffic.


the experiment


The more autonomous a service robot is, the less willing people will be to help it when it fails.


For people who engage with the robot, as the autonomy level decreases, the percentage of people who help will increase. There will be an inverse relationship between autonomy level and duration of time from Janitobot's plea to the person helping it. In the non-autonomous condition, we expect the smallest duration from plea to act, indicating the least hesitance to help. The experiment was conducted at a hallway in front of the gym in the university center for low traffic and to observe from a higher (hidden) area.


  1. No Operator Shown (Fully-autonomous condition, no iPad)
    No live feed of operator's room .Robot interacted with participants through pre-recorded robotic voice prompts, initiated in a consistent order (greeting, plea for help, gratitude, departure), by a hidden observer remotely triggering pre-recorded snippets.
  2. Operator Temporarily Absent (Semi-autonomous condition)
    Live feed of operator's room. Live video feed (via FaceTime) of operator's workspace ("Robotics Club" lab) was shown on attached iPad. Video feed included background of other robot models and an empty chair to imply that the operator had temporarily stepped away. Pre-recorded voice prompts were initiated in the same way as the first condition.
  3. Operator Present (Non-autonomous condition)
    Live feed of operator's room + operator present Live operator situated in the "Robotics Club" on a laptop was shown on Janitobot's iPad through FaceTime. Operator verbally interacted with participants to greet, request for help, thank and end interaction.


  • In the non-autonomous condition, 100% of people who engaged with the robot went on to provide assistance, versus 50% for the semi-autonomous and 60% in the fully-autonomous condition. This suggests that the presence of a human operator motivates people to help, whereas when the robot has more autonomy, the passer-by has less incentive to help.
  • Passers-by spent more time overall, from engagement to leaving, with Janitobot in the fully-autonomous conditions than in the semi and non-autonomous conditions. We found that many people took photos with the autonomous robot, which increased overall time of engagement.
  • People didn't care as much about the robot's time when it was autonomous, suggesting lower empathy with it.
  • People were more hesitant to help the autonomous robot than the ones with less autonomy. Perhaps it is easier to emphasize with a robot being controlled by a human or even just when a human operator is implied.

Duration of interaction








Janitobot was built using an RC car as its base added with a variety of in-store products such as pipes, hoses, and a trash bin.


Drive testing of Janitobot on RC platform.