Workshop on
Culturally Sensitive Social Robotics for All

21st International Conference on Advanced Robotics
Abu Dhabi, UAE
5th December
2:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Motivation  |  Operation  |  Agenda  |  Dissemination  |  Organizer | 

Late-Breaking News: New Workshop Format

Robotics has potential to drive economic growth, accelerate development, deliver education, support healthcare, and increase food production, among many other things. However, technological invention in robotics it is not enough because it is innovation, not just invention, that produces social and economic benefits through widespread adoption and the consequent change in the people's practices. Adoption depends on the conventions that govern people's behaviour, the practices they find acceptable and unacceptable, and their sense of what is trustworthy. Cultural competence, i.e., an awareness of social norms and cultural expectations, is a key element in fostering this acceptance. This is especially important in the fast-growing field of social robotics.1

While there are studies on cultural differences in the acceptance of robots in the West and East, similar studies of the cultural factors that impact of acceptance in the Middle East and the Global South are few and far between. Of the fifty studies included in a survey by Lim et al. (2021),2 only six focus on the MENA region and none target sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, only a very small fraction of the participants in these studies are from the MENA region and less than one percent are from sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal of this workshop is to gather cultural knowledge of interaction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and sub-Saharan Africa so that we can equip social robots with the ability to interact sensitively and politely3 with people in those regions using spatial, non-verbal, and verbal modes of communication.4

Based on work by Bruno et al. (2017),5 this figure illustrates the concept of a culturally competent robot. Cultural competence involves cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity, i.e., the ability to exhibit behaviour based on the general cultural preferences of a population using ethnographic data stored in a cultural knowledge base (the robot's right think bubble). Cultural competence also involves the ability to infer the cultural preferences of an individual and avoid stereotypical interaction (the robot's left think bubble), all of which allows the robot to interact in an empathetic manner.


The workshop is intended to be opportunity for all participants - attendees and organizers - to learn something about cultural sensitivity and cultural competence in social robotics. We begin with three keynote talks focussing on the challenge of social robotics and understanding user needs, on the what it means for social robots to be culturally competent, and why this is important for diversity, equity, and inclusion. We then move on to an information gathering exercise, in which we ask attendees to complete an online questionnaire on cultural knowledge. A draft of this questionnaire is available here. This will be followed by discussion of the outcome of the survey in an effort to reach a consensus.


Time        Activity
2:00 pm - 2:10 pm        Welcome and introduction to the goals of the workshop
2:10 pm - 2:40 pm        Raquel Ros, PAL Robotics: The challenges of social robotics and understanding user needs
2:40 pm - 3:10 pm        Barbara Bruno, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology: The nature of cultural competence in human-robot interaction
2:40 pm - 3:00 pm        David Vernon, Carnegie Mellon University Africa: The importance of cultural competence for diversity, equity, and inclusion
3:00 pm - 3:15 pm        The CSSR4All survey: walkthrough of the questionnaire
3:15 pm - 3:30 pm        Questions and answers
3:30 pm - 4:00 pm        Coffee break
4:00 pm - 4:45 pm        Completing the CSSR4All online survey
4:45 pm - 5:15 pm        Review of the results of the survey
5:15 pm - 5:45 pm        Open discussion and consensus building
5:45 pm - 6:00 pm        Next steps
6:00 pm        Close and farewell


The dedicated workshop website will be the primary, persistent means of disseminating the cultural knowledge that is learned as a result of the workshop. Links to this material will be added to the website of a project dedicated to culturally sensitive social robots for Africa (CSSR4Africa), and to the the proposer'sorganizer's wiki article on robotics. Any applicable cultural knowledge that applicable to the continent of Africa will be included in the CSSR4Africa ontology and knowledge base. If the workshop results are sufficiently substantive, we plan on writing an article for the Journal of Social Robotics to share the findings with a broad base of roboticists.


David Vernon
Carnegie Mellon University Africa
Kigali, Rwanda

David Vernon is a Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University Africa. His work focusses on cognitive robotics, with particular emphasis on cognitive architectures. He has been active in the field of robotics for over forty years and in cognitive robotics for more than twenty. He was a founding co-chair of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Technical Committee for Cognitive Robotics, and he currently serves on the IEEE RAS Women in Engineering Committee. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE, a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland, a Research Fellow at the Kigali Collaborative Research Centre, Rwanda, and a past Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. He is an associate editor of Cognitive Systems Research, and a series editor of Springer's Cognitive Systems Monographs (COSMOS). Currently, he is one of three principal investigators for a project on culturally sensitive social robotics for Africa (

1The global social robotics market was valued at $1.98 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $11.24 billion by 2026 Global Social Robots Market 2022 -- 2027.

2V. Lim, M. Rooksby, and E. S. Cross ``Social robots on a global stage: Establishing a role for culture during human-robot interaction'', International Journal of Social Robotics, 13, pp. 1307-1333. 2021.

3M. Salem, M. Ziadee and M. Sakr, ``Marhaba, how may I help you? Effects of Politeness and Culture on Robot Acceptance and Anthropomorphization,'' 2014 9th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), Bielefeld, Germany, 2014, pp. 74-81.

4The factors that must be addressed include spatial interaction (such as culturally-appropriate relative positioning, initiation of interaction, and communication of intent), nonverbal interaction (such as gaze and eye contact, deictic, iconic, symbolic, and beat gestures, touch, posture, body movement, interaction rhythm & timing, mimicry, and imitation), and verbal interaction (such as accent-adaptive speech recognition and speech generation).

5 B. Bruno, N. Y. Chong, H. Kamide, S. Kanoria, J. Lee, Y. Lim, A. K. Pandey, C. Papadopoulos, I. Papadopoulos, F. Pecora, A. Saffioti, and A. Sgorbissa, "Paving the way for culturally competent robots: A position paper", in 26th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN), Lisbon, Portugal, 2017, pp. 553-560.