Recipient design in human–robot interaction: the emergent assessment of a robot’s competence

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People meeting a robot for the first time do not know what it is capable of and therefore how to interact with it—what actions to produce, and how to produce them. Despite social robotics’ long-standing interest in the effects of robots’ appearance and conduct on users, and efforts to identify factors likely to improve human–robot interaction, little attention has been paid to how participants evaluate their robotic partner in the unfolding of actual interactions. This paper draws from qualitative analyses of video-recorded interactions between a robot and groups of participants, in the framework of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. We analyse the particular ways in which participants shape their embodied actions, how they can reproduce a prior action that failed to obtain a response from the robot; and how they explore the robot’s embodied nature. We find a set of recurrent methods or practices, showing that robot-recipient design displays not only participants’ initial assumptions about the robot’s competences, but also more importantly perhaps their continuous assessment of the robot’s behaviour, and their attempts to adapt to it. Participants locally produce and constantly revise their understanding of the robot as a more or less competent co-participant, drawing from its past, current, and projected conduct and responsiveness. We discuss the implications of these findings for research in robotics and human–robot interactions, and the value of the approach to shed new light on old questions by paying attention to the quality of gesture and the sequential organisation of interaction.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAI and Society
Early online date5 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jan 2023


  • Human-robot interaction
  • Recipient design
  • conversation analysis
  • Embodied action
  • Interactional competence


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