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UNSW developed a social robot to promote workplace creativity and collaboration

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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