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Why Bartenders Have to Ignore Some Signals


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A robot bartender on the job.

Bielefeld University researchers are leading a study into how a robotic bartender can understand human communication and appropriately serve drinks socially.

Credit: Ben Schaefer

Bielefeld University researchers are leading a cooperative study funded by the European Union into how a robotic bartender, called James, can understand human communication and appropriately serve drinks socially.

As part of the study, the researchers asked participants to look through the robot's eyes and ears and select actions from its repertoire.

"We teach James how to recognize if a customer wishes to place an order," says Jan de Ruiter, who leads Bielefeld's Psycholinguistics Research Group.

The robot does not automatically recognize which behavior indicates a customer near the bar wishes to be served, but instead perceives a list of details that is updated as soon as something changes. Each piece of information is processed independently and as equally important, and in order to understand the customers the robot must sort through the data it receives.

"We designed the study as a role-playing game such that it was approachable," de Ruiter says.

The customers' behavior was presented in step-by-step turns, forcing participants to decide in each step what they would do as the robotic bartender. The researchers found body language and eye contact were good initial indications a customer wants to be served, but once it is established the customer wishes to place an order, body language becomes less important.

From Bielefeld University
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