Touch can cause people to react in several ways such as relaxation, aggression, comfort, etc. Touching one's own wound relieves pain, while having the wound touched by another will increase pain. Researchers at the Georgia Insitute of Technology are looking into the patient-effects of robotic touch in the administration of health care.
Cody, a robotic nurse, was used to study these effects in a health care setting. Patients were split into two groups relating to the robotic touch: either Cody warned them in advance, or not. Another split was based on whether the patients were told the touch was solely to comfort them, or to clean them. The touch was identical in both cases.
Surprisingly, patients reacted more favourably when they were not warned of the upcoming touch. Perhaps advance-notice causes patients to worry. (Personally I would have thought the reverse.) Also, patients favoured the action when they believed it was to clean them, not to provide comfort. This last effect mimics studies done with human nurses, where patients were shown to prefer physical contact from nurses when it was for an instrumental technical purpose, rather than to provide comfort.
"If we want robots to be successful in healthcare, we're going to need to think about how do we make those robots communicate their intention and how do people interpret the intentions of the robot," said Charlie Kemp, Administrator of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech. "And I think people haven't been as focused on that until now. Primarily people have been focused on how can we make the robot safe, how can we make it do its task effectively. But that's not going to be enough if we actually want these robots out there helping people in the real world."