UNSW Offers First Social Robotics Course in Australia

Libby Jane Charleston
on 9 December 2016

Australian students will be able to study the first undergraduate Social Robotics course in Australia, giving students the opportunity to design robots that engage emotionally with humans.

Social Robotics: Movement Design for Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) at UNSW Art & Design introduces students to the field of Social Robotics through the use of animation, movement experiments and the exploration of affective processes in HRI.

Course co-convenor Belinda Dunstan from UNSW’s Creative Robotics Lab, Australia’s first cross-disciplinary robotics laboratory, told Women Love Tech the course aims to explore the nuanced social roles robots will play in the future.

“Robots will work with humans, they won’t replace them.”

“People tend to see human–robot relationships in a binary way – as ‘us and them’ or they fear that robots will take over the world, but what we’re seeing in our research is that the role of robots in everyday life can be both integrated and collaborative,” Dunstan said.

Dunstan spent time in Japan earlier this year working with the Fuji Xerox Research and Technology Group in Yokohama, where she developed case studies of new robot aesthetics to be implemented within office environments.

The subject, which will be offered to all UNSW undergraduate students, aims to challenge students’ preconceived notions of what robots should look like and their potential applications.

“In the past, designing robots that read and emit social cues has generally been done by making them look like humans or animals, but the end result is often just a disappointing version of a dog or an ‘uncanny’ version of a human. This course aims to use human movement and social cues as a starting point to build prototypes that don’t necessarily look like a typical robot,” Dunstan said.

Steve Weymouth, Media Arts lecturer and course co-convenor at UNSW Art & Design, will teach the animation stream of the course, which will help students build human characteristics into their robots.

“Eliciting an emotional response has more to do with how an object moves than how it looks,” Weymouth said.

He describes characters like Pixar’s Wall-e, an animated robot that engages with viewers emotionally through using human-like gestures and movement.

“Learning about animation will help students think with a 3D mentality and consider posture and pose and how they can be used to suggest character and emotion.”

Students will generate movement experiments in physical prototypes that could be manifest as 3D CGI virtual representations, physical robots or 3D printed forms.

The undergraduate general elective course will also explore the history of automata, robots and cyborgs through science fiction literature and real-world contemporary robotics research leading to the advent of Social Robotics and HRI.

Currently, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya Israel and The American University of Paris are the only universities to offer undergraduate Social Robotics courses.

For more information: http://www.handbook.unsw.edu.au/undergraduate/courses/2017/SOMA2522.html

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