ARLINGTON (CBS 11 NEWS) – Once the stuff of science fiction, robots today run our factories and touch nearly aspect of our lives. Now, an interdisciplinary research project at University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) looks to explore what could happen if robots can learn to touch our hearts.
“The question I always get is ‘Why? Why would you want to do that?'” said Julienne Greer, Ph.D with a laugh.
Dr. Greer is an Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts, and Director of the university’s ‘Living Lab’ where participants interact with the robots in a home-like setting.
“We can bring all the things that make theater so human: the ability to connect, the ability to understand another human being’s life… empathy.”
The research project looks to include input from the departments of education and social work as well in an effort to make the so called ‘social companion’ robots more human. Study participants interact with two robots, Nao [ pronounced ‘now’ ] and Pepper. Pepper, for example, answers questions and composes music as a student simply moves his hands.
“I think it’s really a beautiful thing, to help, to be that companion,”” said theatre arts student Darrion Dockins,
Researchers say there is no worry that robots will replace humans. But, Dr. Greer insists that technology can help fill in the gap– especially with the healthcare needs of an aging nation.
“I am programming robots that will allow you to stay in your home longer,” said Dr. Greer, “When I say that, that’s when people go: `how quickly can you get them to me?'”
UTA researchers say the study has already shown that participants interacting with the robots reported more engagement and less depression.
“What I like to say is these robots can’t even climb stairs at this point,” said Dr. Greer with a laugh. “So if you’re really scared, just walk up a couple of stairs and you should be absolutely fine.”