Saad Elbeleidy and Terran Mott and Tom Williams


ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction

Publication Year

Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) show significant promise in a number of domains: providing support for the elderly, assisting in education, and aiding in therapy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, SAR research has traditionally focused on providing evidence for this potential. In this paper, we argue that this focus has led to a lack of critical reflection on the appropriate level of autonomy (LoA) for SARs, which has in turn led to blind spots in the research literature. Through an analysis of the past five years of HRI literature, we demonstrate that SAR researchers are overwhelmingly developing and envisioning autonomous robots. Critically, researchers do not include a rationale for their choice in LoA, making it difficult to determine their motivation for fully autonomous robots. We argue that defaulting to research fully autonomous robots is potentially short-sighted, as applying LoA selection guidelines to many SAR domains would seem to warrant levels of autonomy that are closer to teleoperation. We moreover argue that this is an especially critical oversight as teleoperated robots warrant different evaluation metrics than do autonomous robots since teleoperated robots introduce an additional user, the teleoperator. Taken together, this suggests a mismatch between LoA selection guidelines and the vision of SAR autonomy found in the literature. Based on this mismatch, we argue that the next five years of SAR research should be characterized by a shift in focus towards teleoperation and teleoperators.