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Robotic realities, and play for a better Canberra: UC showcases innovation and amplifies impact at Uncharted Territory

Suzanne Lazaroo

The University of Canberra at Uncharted Territory presents:

A panel of multi-disciplinary experts discussing robotic myths, contemporary realities and possible futures at Will Sex Robots Get the Vote? Setting the Robotic Record Straight.

A hypnotic robotic art installation First Kiss: A Robotic Pas De Deux, which disrupts traditional understandings of movement and intimacy, interrogates non-verbal communication, and investigates the intricacies of human-robot interaction.

A chance for A Conversation with a Robot – book in for a one-on-one chat with the SoftBank Pepper robot, the most advanced retail robot in the world.

The ACT Play Symposium: Canberra as The Laboratory of the Possible which will bring together a host of designers, thinkers, researchers, placemakers and space-dreamers – all coming together to play their way to a better city.

4 July 2023: The University of Canberra will showcase exciting ongoing research at the upcoming Uncharted Territory festival, with initiatives designed for reciprocal exchange and collaboration with the capital’s community – and beyond.

Free events, installations, workshops and presentations will engage the public, and participants can take part in research studies, which can be used to inform and drive change in policy and practice.

An ACT Government initiative, Uncharted Territory is Canberra’s own arts and innovation festival. This inaugural event will see artists, thinkers, researchers and entrepreneurs ideate, create and collaborate over 10 days, from 7 to 16 July.

As part of the festival’s opening night on Friday 7 July, ABC Canberra’s Adam Shirley will host a panel of experts as they discuss myths, realities and possible futures at Will Sex Robots Get the Vote? Setting the Robotic Record Straight.

The panellists include globally-renowned performance artist Stelarc, the University’s own Associate Professors Dr Damith Herath (from the Faculty of Science and Technology) and Dr Bruce Baer Arnold (from the Faculty of Business, Government and Law),  and robotics entrepreneur Nicci Rossouw, the CEO of Robotics Australia Group.

“The panel will present a mix of fascinating and incredibly  varied perspectives on robotics,” said Associate Professor Herath.

“Bruce’s legal mind constantly wrestles with questions like ‘should robots have rights?’, Stelarc continuously extends the limits of his own body with robotics and biotechnology, Nicci is a robotics entrepreneur and I am a roboticist who often collaborates at the intersection of disciplines, from art, sociology, education and health.

“Uncharted Territory is a great way to connect with the community, both to share some of the work we’re doing, and to provide a more balanced and informed view of robotics and AI – there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

The University’s robotics team will also present two installations that combine robotics and art.

A haunting, hypnotic installation comprising humanoid faces suspended on robotic arms, First Kiss: A Robotic Pas De Deux, interrogates non-verbal communication, the intricacies of human-robot interaction, and the disruption of traditional understandings of movement and intimacy.

It’s a collaboration between the robotics team at the University, and  choreographer Melanie Lane, Assistant Professor Dr Denise Thwaites from the Faculty of Arts and Design, and sound designer Becki Whitton. Ms Lane worked with Research Intern Yagnesh Naidu to bring her artistic vision to life.

The piece emerged from a pilot artist residency program facilitated by Assistant Professor Thwaites and Dr Vahri McKenzie from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.

First Kiss perfectly highlights cross-disciplinary and cross-field collaboration,” Associate Professor Herath said. “It embodies creativity, innovation, artistry and entrepreneurship – all things that Uncharted Territory itself stands for.”

A second installation – A Conversation with a Robot – presents an opportunity to get robotics out into the real world, and face-to-face with the community.

Building on a long-term collaboration with SoftBank Robotics, the installation from Associate Professor Herath, Dr Janie Busby Grant (from the University of Canberra's Faculty of Health) and Associate Professor Jenny Davis (from the Australian National University's School of Sociology) will allow the public to book in time for a one-on-one chat with SoftBank’s Pepper, the most advanced retail robot in the world.

“Participants who are over 18 can also choose to take part in a study on robot-human interaction – A Conversation with a Robot will allow the public to better understand what real robotic systems look like – but the research will, in turn, help us improve these kinds of interactions,” Associate Professor Herath said.

“Together, the two installations and the panel combine to frame a holistic, complex understanding of robotics – from art that provokes thought and response, to the grounded discussion of where we are, and where we can go with robotics and AI, as we consider both opportunities and dangers.”

Uncharted Territory will also see Associate Professor Dr Cathy Hope bringing together players, placemakers, artists and thinkers, as she convenes this year’s ACT Play Symposium: Canberra as The Laboratory of the Possible from 12 to 14 July.

“The Play Symposium is, like play itself, about gentle disruption – thinking differently about how we approach things for better outcomes for people and place,” Associate Professor Hope said.

“Canberra has historically had a reputation as the austere centre of democracy, and also a boring, unreadable place to visit. This is, of course, changing as Canberra changes – the capital is full of playful possibility, including creative ways to improve community wellbeing, and the Symposium is designed to highlight that.”

Now in its fourth year, the Symposium has always been about exploring what is possible in the intersections between creativity, play and applied knowledge.

“I ran the first Play Symposium in 2016 to test this concept of play as a mode of cultural practice – so, not just about kids,” Associate Professor Hope said.

“Canberra was already undergoing significant renewal, and I thought that I might be able to contribute to making it a more playful, vibrant and creative city. So, I firmly linked the Symposium to Canberra, and its people. The ACT Government was incredibly responsive to this and have supported the Symposium in one way or another ever since.”

Sitting under the umbrella of Uncharted Territory, the Symposium has an even greater focus on innovation this year.

“We’ll be exploring the metaverse and gamification alongside placemaking and design,” Associate Professor Hope said.

Some of the stand-outs at this year’s ACT Play Symposium include keynote speakers from New Zealand, Gap Filler, who will co-deliver a trial of two of their urban play models – Play Personality and Moodshift;

Look out also for a web-based gamified platform called Uncharted Territory from Sarah Murray, Director of PLACE Technologies, and an exciting gamification workshop on using play to solve complex challenges from Dr Kerstin Oberprieler, Behavioural Design Practice Lead of ThinkPlace.

“We’ll have some amazing local speakers like Betty Macharia, ACT Woman of the Year – who will be sharing about play in the ACT African community, and Young Canberra Citizen of the Year, Kat Reed. The Symposium will be a playful and powerful reminder of what is possible, both for people’s practice and for this city,” said Associate Professor Hope.

Register for the Uncharted Territory offerings from the University of Canberra at the event pages above. Or visit the Uncharted Territory website for the full program of happenings.