UTA Emotional Robotics Lab
Looks at Human-Robot Bonds

The new lab is studying whether or not a robot can fill in the emotional gap needed to be a companion or caretaker to humans.


Can a robot fill in the emotional gap needed to be a companion or caretaker to humans, providing emotional or physical support?

That’s what the new Emotional Robotics Living Lab at the University of Texas at Arlington is looking into.

“The idea here is not to replace humans but to fill a gap,” Julienne Greer, UTA assistant professor of theatre arts and director of the lab, said in a release. “We are using theater arts to design ways for robots to create bonds of trust and emotion with humans of different ages and improve their quality of life.”

“The idea here is not to replace humans but to fill a gap.”
Julienne Greer

Greer and her colleagues, Ling Xu and Noelle Fields, both assistant professors in the School of Social Work, and Kris Doelling, research engineer at the UTA Research Institute, recently conducted a study that was funded with a $20,000 seed grant from UTA’s Interdisciplinary Research Program.

In the study, a robot and adults interacted using sonnets from Shakespeare, and researchers found that after three weeks, there was a major drop in depression and an increase in robot-human social engagement among the older adults.

“We are now looking to make experience more immersive so that the robot and the adults play out an entire scene of Shakespeare together, such as the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene,” Greer said. “We hypothesize that the more immersive the theatre intervention, the deeper and more positive the responses in older adults will be in regards to depression and social engagement.”

The new lab has two robots from SoftBank Robotics, Pepper — a 4-foot-tall humanoid robot with large, expressive eyes — and NAO, a smaller humanoid robot that is designed to be an interactive companion.

“We want to look at what it means to have a robot in the room, and plan to use theatre methodology to make that experience as engaging as possible,” Greer said.

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