Technical Computer Science students make Pepper a full-fledged GET lab colleague

From left to right Tim de Vries, Erwin van Hunnik, Pepper and Roderik Weijenberg

In the GET lab, you will soon be greeted by a very unusual colleague: the robot Pepper. At least, if it depends on Roderik Weijenberg, Tim de Vries and Erwin van Hunnik. Technical Informatics students are investigating how they can turn the attention robot into a full-fledged GET lab colleague.

The idea is clear: when you enter the GET lab on the third floor, you will meet the white robot with friendly eyes at the door. Pepper welcomes you, takes you into space and gives you a tour with information about the health technology you want to know more about.

But before that happens, there is still a lot of programming work to be done. Roderik: “We are now investigating what tasks Pepper needs to be able to do to be a good colleague. We think it would be nice if he could at least lower the threshold to enter the GET lab and give a few words of welcome.” Erwin adds, “If Pepper takes on simple tasks, like giving an introductory talk, the other employees have more time for complex questions.”

Care robots in practice
In hospitals and some businesses, the pepper is used to register visitors as they enter or to indicate the way. Roderik, Tim and Erwin have been in contact with an employee of the Philadelphia care facility. The service robot will stay there with customers to help them remember to take medication, for example. Until now, the prized technology of the GET lab has been mostly beautiful. Employees thought it was time to change that. Technical computer science students help with this.

Arouse interest in health technology
Being greeted by a robot is fun too, Tim thinks. “When a robot invites you in, you immediately feel curious. Pepper can help introduce students and staff to the world of healthcare and technology and spark their interest.”

Roderik demonstrates what Pepper can now do: find her place in space and follow commands like ‘take your position at the table’. The intention is that the white robot will soon be at the door and ask: ‘Do you want to know something about virtual reality?’ If you choose yes, the robot will take you to the corner with the VR glasses and explain this technology to you. The commandos give the students commands via the screen on Pepper’s chest, but they hope that in the future she will be able to recognize speech and respond, for example, through a loudspeaker.

Human-robot interaction
It is the combination of care and technology that makes the task interesting for technical students. “It’s a cool project,” says Roderik. “Health care is a beautiful field and I find the interaction that can take place between a human and a robot very interesting. Everyone reacts differently to Pepper.” Tim is happy that he gets to use a lot of his creativity in the GET lab and that he and his classmates have a lot of freedom. “There are no ready tutorials for programming Pepper on the Internet, so we have to figure out a lot of things ourselves. That makes the project a challenge.”

uncanny valley
A robot showing you around or starting a chat at the door, is that as enjoyable as contact with a ‘real’ employee? Erwin explains that there are people who find contact with a robot creepy. This uncomfortable feeling is called haunting valley. “The more human a robot is in its movements or reactions, the more this effect occurs,” says Erwin. Technicians estimate the risk uncanny valley when in contact with Pepper not high. Tim: “Pepper’s movements are quite human, especially since she occasionally does things independently, but in terms of appearance and interaction there is no doubt that he is a robot.”

According to the gentlemen, Pepper is primarily a complement and not a replacement for human contact in the GET lab. Roderik: “It’s nice if Pepper can take some tasks off your hands, but you always have a choice: let Pepper show me around or talk to an employee. Ultimately, the main objective is to generate interest in health technology among visitors”.

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