Professor George Pettinico Explores the Coming Age of Robots

Assistant Professor of Marketing George Pettinico

In his new book, Assistant Professor of Marketing George Pettinico thoroughly examines American consumer reaction to the significant increase of robot presence expected over the next two decades. While industry is ready to roll-out robots into our personal lives, Pettinico’s research shows that consumers still have reservations. This represents significant opportunities for marketing professionals.

Pettinico and coauthor George R. Milne explore the challenges using data from national surveys in their new book, The Coming Age of Robots: Implications for Consumer Behavior and Marketing Strategy.

The AI revolution has already begun in urban areas with automatic robots cleaning up grocery store spills, R2-D2-like security robots monitoring parking garages, and kiosk robots checking in hotel guests. Developers and engineers are quickly advancing the technology to read emotions and facial expressions and to hold human-like conversations, designing robots to teach, babysit, draw blood, and provide security.

“Experts are telling us that robots will become much more prevalent in our daily lives,” says Pettinico. “We’ve had one wave of robots that took place behind the scenes in warehouses and factories. The next wave will be up close and personal in our stores, hotels, hospitals, and homes. We decided to take a good look at whether or not consumers are ready for this.”

Knightscope’s K5 security robot

Data shows that, in many ways, they are not. In considering robot roles in the home, 86 percent of the 2,700 surveyed Americans reported feeling comfortable with a robot vacuuming their floors, while only 11 percent said they would trust a robot to babysit their children. In community roles,56 percent are in support of robots doing sanitation work, while only 19 percent would trust robots to serve as law enforcement. In a hospital setting, 58 percent would prefer a robot (versus human) to help them use the bathroom during rehabilitation, while only 10 percent would prefer a robot to draw a blood sample.

“Even though the technology is becoming advanced and developers see robots having important roles in society, consumers are saying, ‘No, we are not ready,’” says Pettinico. “American consumers are comfortable with robots as a servant class but not in roles of significant responsibility. This push back will either slow the revolution, or companies will have to market to consumers in a way that convinces them that robots can do these things better than humans.”

Hanson’s Sophia

The survey also revealed that American consumers are more comfortable with mechanical-looking robots. While developers have the technology to create sophisticated robots that look and act like humans, it makes consumers nervous. Baby-like cuteness such as small stature and big eyes may be a design approach that alleviates consumer discomfort.

“We end the book with five laws of consumer-robot interactions,” says Pettinico. “We’d like developers and corporate America to think about these as they develop robots. These are intelligent people pushing the envelope, but somebody needs to raise a flag and say, ‘Let’s think about the impact on consumers and society.’ Just because something can be done doesn’t necessarily mean it should be.”

In addition to his book, Pettinico has published articles in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, the Journal of Consumer Affairs, and Health Marketing Quarterly, has presented his research at national conferences, and brings his passion for the intersection of technology and consumer behavior to Plymouth State.

“Technology is important to our everyday lives,” says Pettinico. “In doing these projects, I get to bring relevant, real-world research into the classroom. I’m teaching about research methodology while I’m doing it. My next project will focus on how people buy things to reflect self-image, and I’d love to involve PSU students in the research, particularly the interviewing process.”

Pettinico’s enthusiasm for research benefits his students and colleagues alike, and his achievements are representative of the pioneering work being done by PSU faculty. “Plymouth State is a great place,” says Pettinico. “We’re in the beginning of the robotics revolution and no one else has been looking at the consumer side of it. We have professors here doing that cutting-edge research. This is just one example of how faculty at PSU are looking to the future and engaging in exciting work.”

The Coming Age of Robots: Implications for Consumer Behavior and Marketing Strategy