What do children look for in a robot reading buddy?
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Description: The number of studies exploring whether robots can be used as an assistive tool in education interventions has been steadily increasing over the past decade and a half. Whilst research on this topic presents the opportunity to combine insights from education, cognitive science and human—robot interaction, most studies examining the effectiveness of education robots have ignored the fundamental features of robots that might make them more or less effective in education settings, and how this is shaped by the needs and expectations of learners. The current study explores how user perceptions towards robots with different features (e.g., verbal communication capacity, anthropomorphism, etc.) might inform which robots are selected for certain interventions. Here, we specifically examine robot ‘reading buddies’ for children. Using a range of quantifiable and qualitative measures, we characterise how the form and function of different robots shapes children’s first impressions, expectations and experiences before and after reading with a robot. An inductive thematic analysis revealed that robots can offer children an engaging and non-judgemental social context to promote reading engagement. This was supported by children’s perceptions of robots as being intelligent enough to read, listen and comprehend the story being read, particularly when they had the capacity to talk (i.e., NAO). Many children also suggested the potential to experience a social affiliation with the robot, despite recognising its physical limitations. However, a key challenge in the use of robots for this purpose was the unpredictable nature of robot behaviour, which remains difficult to perfectly control and time using either human operators or autonomous algorithms. Consequently, some children found the robots’ responses distracting. We provide recommendations for the selection of robots for future research seeking to evaluate their use as an assistive tool within and beyond education settings.