Doctoral Candidate Peled Avner

123000 €

Intergroup Contact via Telepresence Robots

Tieteellinen tutkimus / siihen pohjautuva työ | Nelivuotinen

The proposed research investigates how robots can facilitate contact between groups in conflict who are unable to meet face-to-face. It uses a multidisciplinary approach, combining communication and media studies, social psychology, art, design, and robot engineering with one principal objective: reducing prejudice between groups. Telepresence robots (robots that are remotely operated by humans) are increasingly used in social situations, from public services such as health care and education to the private sector in working places and residential homes. New demands for robotic avatars also surfaced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where physical distancing is imposed on society. Driven by the dire need for innovative solutions to the violent, long-term conflict in my home country, Israel, with its Arab neighbors, the proposed research examines the viability of telepresence robots as a new tool for intergroup conflict resolution. From this extreme use-case, wider-scale lessons regarding social robot design, physical interaction, and mediated communication can be acquired and applied in other contexts of social relations. This research comprises of four publications over four years: 1) The first robotic telepresence contact hypothesis: A conceptual article theorizing on the conditions required for a positive robot-mediated encounter between groups in conflict. 2) Make your robotic avatar: A novel design for a participatory workshop toolkit, enabling an inexperienced user to fabricate their robotic avatar and use it to contact the opposing group. 3) The first field test for robotic telepresence contact in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, documented and analyzed. 4) An aggregating and concluding dissertation. The research builds on lessons learned from my MA thesis, the soft robotic telepresence HITODAMA, which showed promising results in mediating conversations between Finnish locals and immigrants.