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UC researchers challenge to beat the ‘bot

Marcus Butler and Kim Pham

9 June 2017: Two Danish university students have travelled all the way to the University of Canberra to work on a project investigating how humans feel when interacting with machines.

Experience design students Carina Spure Nielsen and Bolette Sif Ulff-Moller from Aalborg University spent six weeks in the country working on the ‘Robot Playmates’ research project.

They collaborated with UC students to program and install a robot at the National Science and Technology Centre - Questacon for the public to face off in a game of noughts and crosses.

The students were investigating the social co-experience between humans and robots.

“There’s not a lot of literature in this area but at the moment it does look like we can have social experiences with a piece of technology, if we believe that the technology is experiencing it as well,” Ms Ulff-Moller said.

The robot, Baxter, is the first ‘Collaborative Robot’ or CoBot in Canberra and has been programmed with a variable ‘personality’ in his interactions with people.

University of Canberra Assistant Professor of Robotics Damith Herath said the experiment is paving the way for some of the most interesting and important changes to robotics.

“Robots are already taking the first steps of becoming ‘social’,” Dr Herath said.

“We’re working with new technologies that enable robots to be more interactive and safe to work with humans. These are new and unique new possibilities for our interaction with the ‘robotkind’.”

The students have returned home to Denmark but will spend the next few months analysing the data collected. They would like to see Baxter developed to function autonomously and unsupervised in the future.

Robot Playmates is a multidisciplinary project with students and researchers from IT and engineering, and support from the University’s Faculty of Arts and Design. Baxter was made in US by Rethink Robotics and is on-loan from Robological.

The next phase of the project will see Baxter interact with the public as part of a two-week art installation in Sydney this October.