The use of robotics is becoming more common in a number of different industries, with many researchers suggesting that we are on the brink of a robotic era. Despite their widespread use, the public perception of robotics has rarely been investigated. 

Timo Gnambs from Johannes Kepler Universität Linz (Austria) and Markus Appel from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (Germany) addressed this gap in the literature and published their findings in Computers in Human Behavior. According to their cross-European data analysis, robots are now more negatively evaluated than five years ago.

In particular, there is greater scepticism about the use of robots within work places. There is seemingly a large amount of concern about job losses as a result of robotics, which has become increasingly discussed within the public sphere. However, interestingly the use of robots at the workplace is still rated more positively than the use of them in surgeries.

Gnambs and Appel analysed the 2012, 2014 and 2017 Eurobarometer data, which included 80,396 citizens from 27 European countries. In their research, participants first saw a general description of robots as machines that could assist people with daily activities, such as cleaning robots or as machines that were working in environments that were too dangerous for humans, such as rescue missions. When the interviewees later had to judge robots, the results were still relatively positive.

Responses were very different when respondents were presented with specific applications, such as surgeries, caretaking robots or self-driving cars. In these scenarios, they evaluated robots more negatively.

From these results, it appears as though Europeans are relatively positive about robots as long as they have relatively theoretical concept in mind. However, they are increasingly critically when the robot is specified and personal interactions appear imminent.

The study also gives some important insights about differences between individuals in the perceptions of robots. Men tend to see robots as positively, while women are more sceptical. Blue-collar workers have more negative attitudes towards robots than people with office jobs. And in countries with a high proportion of older people, the attitudes towards robots are more positive.

In light of the rapid development in robotics, it is worth noting these concerns as they have the potential to affect subsequent acceptance. Efforts to improve public perceptions of these technologies alongside manufacturing them, is likely to be fruitful.