Cultural Studies of Robot Design

Cultural Sense-Making in HRI

People’s expectations, perceptions, and uses of robots are shaped by local cultural meanings and practices. Our cross-cultural research in human-robot interaction studies how perceptions and understandings of robots vary among cultural contexts — in different countries like the US, South Korea, China, Japan, Turkey,  or in different organizational cultures.
In a series of studies in the US and South Korea, we explored how people envision using robots in their homes, and how the local meanings of home and the social interactions within it affect their ideas about robot design. We also study culturally variable interpretations of sociality, relationships, emotion, and other cultural dynamics as they relate to robotic technologies and human cognition. Our aim is to define and develop a culturally robust understanding of robotics that can inform future robot design and allow roboticists and users to have a reflexive understanding of robotic technology’s effects on culture. This research is partially funded by NSF IIS-1143712, [add Marlena NSF award number]

Culture in Robot Design

Robotics is a transnational science, but robotics research labs and researchers themselves are situated in particular national, organizational, and other local cultural contexts. Robotic technologies therefore often incorporate various cultural assumptions and practices of their designers. To understand how culture is produced and reproduced through the conceptualization, design, and use of robots, we explore the cultural discourse and practices among roboticists around the world. One focus of our work has been on using interviews and ethnographic participatory observation in robotics labs to the study of how sociality is conceived of and designed into robots in the US and Japan. Between 2010 and 2019, in partnership with IEEE, we collected over 100 oral history interviews with robotics researchers around the world to document the development of robotics as a scientific field.  We are currently analyzing these interviews to better understand the various ways in which robotics researchers understand the aims, practices, and social consequences of robotics, and to map the cognitive and social networks of robotics. The transcripts and video recordings of these interviews are publicly available through the IEEE History Center and IEEETv


  • Tan, H., Wang, D., & Sabanovic, S. (2018, August). Projecting Life Onto Robots: The Effects of Cultural Factors and Design Type on Multi-Level Evaluations of Robot Anthropomorphism. In 2018 27th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) (pp. 129-136). IEEE.
  • Fraune, M. R., Kawakami, S., Sabanovic, S., De Silva, P. R. S., & Okada, M. (2015). Three’s company, or a crowd?: The effects of robot number and behavior on HRI in Japan and the USA. In Robotics: Science and Systems.
  • Bennett, C. C. (2015). The effects of culture and context on perceptions of robotic facial expressions. Interaction Studies, 16(2), 272-302.
  • Bennett, C. C., Šabanović, S., Fraune, M. R., & Shaw, K. (2014, August). Context congruency and robotic facial expressions: Do effects on human perceptions vary across culture?. In The 23rd IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (pp. 465-470). IEEE.
  • Šabanović, S., Bennett, C.C., Lee, H.R. (2014) “Towards Culturally Robust Robots: A Critical Social Perspective on Robotics and Culture.” Proceedings of the Workshop on Culturally Aware Robots at the 9th International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI’14), Bielefeld, Germany, March 2014.
  • Lee, H.R., Šabanović, S., (2014). “Culturally Variable Preferences for Robot Design and Use in South Korea, Turkey, and the United States” Proceedings of the International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI’14), pp. 17-24, Bielefeld, Germany 2014.
  • Lee, H. R., Šabanović, S.,(2013). “Weiser’s Dream in the Korean Home: Collaborative Study of Domestic Roles, Relationships, and Ideal Technologies” Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2013), Zurich, Switzerland, September 2013, pp. 637-646.
  • Lee, H., Sung, J., Šabanović, S., Han, J. (2012). “Cultural Design of Domestic Robots: A Study of User Expectations in Korea and the United States.” Proceedings of RO-MAN 2012, Paris France, September 2012, pp. 803-808.
  • Šabanović, S. (2010). “Emotion in Robot Cultures: Cultural Models of Affect in Social Robot Design.” Proceedings of Design and Emotion 2010 (D&E2010), Chicago IL, October 2010.
  • Sabanovic, S., Milojevic, S., Asaro, P., & Francisco, M. (2015). Robotics Narratives and Networks [History]. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 22(1), 137-146.
  • Šabanović, S. (2014). Inventing Japan’s ‘robotics culture’: The repeated assembly of science, technology, and culture in social robotics. Social Studies of Science, 44(3), 342-367.
  • Šabanović, S., Milojević, S., Kaur, J., Francisco, M., & Asaro, P. (2014). Raymond Jarvis [History]. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 21(4), 120-126.
  • Milojević, S., Šabanović, S., & Kaur, J. (2013). Miomir Vukobratovic [History]. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 20(2), 112-122.
  • Milojević, S., & Šabanović, S. (2013). Robotics narratives and networks: Conceptual foundations for a non-linear digital archive.
  • Sabanovic, S., Milojevic, S., & Kaur, J. (2012). John McCarthy [History]. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 19(4), 99-106
  • Ballard, L. A., Sabanovic, S., Kaur, J., & Milojevic, S. (2012). George charles devol, jr.[history]. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 19(3), 114-119.
  • Šabanović, S. (2010). Robots in society, society in robots. International Journal of Social Robotics, 2(4), 439-450.