Dr Paul Bremner and Peter Gibbons from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory will look at the social and technological aspects of being able to appear in public in proxy forms, via a range of advanced robotics platforms. The robots will be controlled remotely, a method called teleoperation, and a tele-operator will be able to see through the robot's eyes and speak through its mouth, while directing where it looks and how it moves.
Dr Bremner said, “Public spaces play a valuable role in providing shared understanding and common purpose, but if you are ill or disabled, or live too far away, this can be a barrier to participation. The aim of our research is for the robot to be an avatar for a remote person so it will be taking part in the same activities as those actually present in the venue”.
To investigate this the team at BRL, a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol, will use several robots such as Engineered Arts' Robothespian, Aldebaran's NAO, MobileRobots' PeopleBot, and the INRIA’s Poppy. The robots will be tele-operated to produce speech, gestures and other non-verbal social behaviour so that we can look at the way robot avatars transmit social presence, first using motion capture (using a Microsoft Kinect) and later using desktop control (a keyboard and mouse). Over the course of the project some autonomy will be added to the robots to enable better social interaction and allow simple desktop control. We will also investigate how different robot appearances and behaviours affect the social interaction.
An example of how this could eventually be used might be a NAO robot in a museum , acting as an avatar - looking round at the exhibits and interacting with other visitors – on behalf of someone who was in another part of the city, unable to visit the location because of disability or illness. This research will enable us to develop the technology to enable this to happen, and to evaluate the human interaction with the robot. Developing robots that will be effective in their interactions with humans in different social situations is a crucial step to developing robotic interventions that are useful to human society.
Image by Steve Hoefer on Flickr