Social Distance Robot

How could we restore and amplify the feelings of physical communication brought from social distance in digital world?


Faced with digital communication in Zoom everyday in such a special condition of self-quarantine now, we get used to transmit and receive information through technology. However, compared to real communication in physical world, we lose some senses like vision and auditory, especially the feelings brought from social distance, in the communication through technology such as Zoom.

How could we restore and amplify the feelings of physical communication brought from social distance in digital world? The social distance robot can give you the answer. This automatically robot can help you feel awkward, distracted and comfortable brought from social distance in digital communication.


Project Process



We did several experiments in the first two weeks to look for the interaction between technology and people. Becasue of the self-quanrantine life in COVID19, we have to flip to online study through multiple softwares such as Zoom, Miro etc. So in the preliminary study, Melody and I focus on interaction through Zoom. In the experiment, we found that people are very easily to ignore the feeling brought by social distance in digital space. So in the next week we deployed the experiment to extend the distance between user and its computer which we found that when people talked away from each other on Zoom, they felt it too far and difficult to communicate. There also exists personal space in digital world such as Zoom.


The definition of proxemics, which is put forward by Edward T. Halln, means four types of distance between people as they interact including intimate distance (0.15-0.5 meter), personal distance (0.5-1 meter), social distance (1-3.5 meters) and public distance (3.5-7.5 meters). Referring to the proxemics, I categorize social distance in digital space into three kinds including intimate space, personal space and public space. Different space will let users have different feeling in the communication.

Different Impact of social distance

Social Distance Robot

Considering the COVID19 situation, I decided to use the AI robot of CreaTech class to work as the social distance robot. The main components of the robot are the computing chip (Raspberry Pi) and continuous motor. The robot can move back and forth which can be controlled by programme through WiFi.

There is also a user interface in Unity developed by Phil which I could program very easily. In the code part, I deploy two stages (Prepartion and Motion) here. The first one is to initialize and locate the robot place on the table. The second one is to set how far and when the robot are supposed to move.

In the experiment, the social distance robot will change randomly from these three types distance as shown in the following which to verify the different feelings in each stage.

Intimate Space to Personal Space

Intimate Space to Personal Space

Public Space to Personal Space

Personal Space to Intimate Space

I also designed the product which is composed of two tires, main body (micro computing chip and circuit) and handle to support the phone.

Experiment Design

In the experiment, I design different spaces in the interaction between these two users. There are several key in my design:

1. Start from personal space (Initialization)
2. Make sure identical time in each space
3. User will feel different feeling in both their space but also other user’s space.

Besides, before the experiment, I will show the users instruction to let them know what they will prepare before test and what to do in the test. The instruction show the way to operate robot and phone, even how they should behave.


In the deployment, User 1 said that she felt awkward when User 2 was very close to the webcam and felt more comfortable when User 1 kept a distance with User 2. In addition, User 2 also said she would be more distracted and wanted to be closer when the robot was away.

Meanwhile, I also found some surprising feelings of users such as that they will be distracted, interrupted and astonished when the robot is moving.

What's next

Now there are still some questions I need to explore more on in the next run. The first is about the definition of social distance. We knew that there were also social distance in the digital communication which made people feel something in our previous test. However, how to caculate the digital interpersonal distance can still be a difficulty becasue the interaction is mediated by the computer and it is hard to figure out the distance impacted by the medium. The second question, which is based on the first one, is that how to categorize the distance with specific scientific data. To solve that question, I believe we need more help from behavioral psychology and human computer interaction experts. Lastly, my experiment now only focus on the user’s own feeling about themselves in the vision instead of the feeling about others in the communication. So in the next run, I’ll work more on the social distance effect on other side.