Dr Roshan Thapliya in the Creative Robotics Lab at UNSW. Photo: Quentin Jones (From UNSW press release)

Dr Roshan Thapliya in the Creative Robotics Lab at UNSW. Photo: Quentin Jones (From UNSW press release)

UNSW developed a social robot to promote workplace creativity and collaboration

According to a press statement, the UNSW Creative Robotics Lab and the Fuji Xerox Research Technology Group (RTG) have developed a social robot to promote workplace creativity and collaboration.

Designed to improve employee experience in the workplace, the social robot is part of a 3-year collaboration between the UNSW Creative Robotics Lam and RTG.

Dr Roshan Thapliya, Research Senior Manager of the Research and Technology Group at Fuji Xerox, said the new social robot would interact with employees in the workplace and perform administrative and organisational tasks, allowing workers to use their time to create.  

“We would like a special type of robot that would fit right into the workplace so that people will not be disturbed by its presence but at the same time help them with their tasks,” Dr Thapliya shared.

Funded by Fuji Xerox, the first phase of the project included preliminary engineering tests at UNSW.

In the next phase, the robot will be placed in real-life scenarios to test audience reactions. It will be first placed at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo then at the Fuji Xerox office. Data about the interactions will then be collected to help further development of the robot.

The UNSW Social Robotics Lab will work on the design and psychological programming of the robot. Other technical aspects, such as robo-navigation and artificial intelligence (AI), will be developed by the UNSW School of Computer Science in collaboration with Fuji Xerox.

The second phase will concentrate on developing technology that will monitor and enhance the employees' wellbeing and facilitate collaboration between colleagues.

Professor Mari Velonak, Director of the Creative Robotics Lab at UNSW, commented that synchronicity is the key to workplace cooperation and that the social robot is designed to facilitate that.

The team also believe that social robots can contribute to emotional well-being of people in the workplace. Dr Thapliya added that there is even potential for social robots to play a role in reducing social isolation among Japan’s ageing population.

“Our main goal is to make a companion for humans… we want to create a heartful robot,” he said.

Both Professor Velonaki and Dr Thapliya believe that social robots will not replace people in the workplace. Rather, they consider social robots useful tools that will allow workers to collaborate and to use the skill that will be a hallmark of the workplace of the future: creativity.

“We are not interested in building machines that will replace humans, we are interested in creating systems that enhance humans. It is to connect people. It sounds like an oxymoron asking a robot to connect people, but there can be less stigma attached when a physical agent connects people,” Professor Velonaki said.

As Dr Thapliya said, “Creativity is the one thing that humans will always be better at than machines, and creative work is what will be required over the next 20 to 30 years. What technology does is it disrupts this linear model into a different model and actually creates more jobs.”

UNSW was the first to offer undergraduate Social Robotics course in Australia, giving students the opportunity to design robots that engage emotionally with humans.

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