Readings with a Robot

Sarah is celebrating the end of the project with a poetry reading at the Fringe to show that art and science can mix.

An international specialist who has been assisting a team of researchers at Heriot-Watt with a project into how humans react with robots, is celebrating the end of the project with a poetry reading at the Fringe to show that art and science can mix. Sarah joined the Heriot-Watt team to undertake a six week experiment, the first of its kind, into how humans would interact with a robot in a working environment. Earlier research shows that while people can find robots useful and attractive working companions, they can also trigger annoyance and even violence.

Spirit of the Building project

The Spirit of the Building project, at Heriot-Watt's School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, involved a team of five researchers working with Sarah, who is herself a robot with an expressive head and face which was designed in Poland. She spent three weeks living autonomously in a lab with the researchers to see how humans and a robot can coexist in a normal working environment. This is one of the longest experiments of its kind carried out in any European country. Sarah kept herself charged up by navigating to a charging station when she needed €˜food €™ and reminded her colleagues of their appointments as well as indulging in general chat. She was co-opted into carrying biscuits and sending tongue twisters as the researchers tried to incorporate Sarah into their working routines.

Key to the interactions, which were recorded via diaries, videos and interviews, and which will be analysed by specialists at Heriot-Watt and in Sweden, was Sarah's ability to engage with her human colleagues, and an important element of this were her face and the expressions it could produce, designed and built by colleagues at Wroclaw in Poland.

The results of the project are being analysed in detail, but lessons were learned about the importance of making robot intentions obvious to people around them. Sarah has an expressive head that allows her to show emotions with this in mind

Professor Ruth Aylett, Professor of Computing Science

The Poetic Robot

Professor Ruth Aylett, Professor of Computing Science at Heriot-Watt University, said, "We know that people feel more relaxed with robots when they can predict what they are going to do, the way we can read and predict our fellow human beings. That sort of emotional analysis means that robots which have facial expressions are important, but anything too human can be counter-productive, leading to overly high expectations of what the robot can do.

"The results of the project are being analysed in detail, but lessons were learned about the importance of making robot intentions obvious to people around them. Sarah has an expressive head that allows her to show emotions with this in mind. Privacy and security were important concerns for the researchers, and it is clear that the robot team-mates of the future must allow the humans around them to control what information is retained about their interactions."

Now Sarah and Professor Aylett will be performing a selection of poems and a dialogue on science and intuition, as part of the Inky Fingers MiniFest at the Fringe.