UNSW social robotics research was on display in Dubai in March when a delegation of Australian researchers presented their expertise at EXPO 2020.  

Delegation Chair and Senior Researcher in UNSW Canberra’s Trusted Autonomy Group, Dr Max Cappuccio, explained that while traditional robots were conceived to be used exclusively as tools in factories, social robots are deliberately designed to be perceived as companions and teammates.  

“Social robots are equipped with embodied and recognitive features, such as speech, gaze and gesture,” he said.  

“This makes them suitable to interact socially with humans, assisting in their homes and workplaces, for example, in the educational, health care, or entertainment environments.” 

The multidisciplinary symposium brought together renowned technology developers, roboticists, and social scientists from across the globe to demonstrate the latest developments in the field and to discuss the technical challenges and societal implications of the social robotics.  

Dr Max Cappuccio speaks to a robot at Expo 2020.
Dr Max Cappuccio taking a question at EXPO 2020 Dubai.

“This edition specifically aimed to showcase the excellence of Australian research in the context of EXPO Dubai and to establish collaborative partnerships with the universities and the entrepreneurs of the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East in general,” Dr Cappuccio said.  

“We particularly focused on the applications of social robots in education and training, for example, how robots can be used in a classroom environment as aids to teachers, or as tools to track and stimulate the interest of the students and promote their STEM skills. 

“We also discussed several assistive technologies in the medical industry and in the care of elderly people and persons with special needs, as well as applications in the retail and customer care environments.  

“The comments and recommendations received from the audience encouraged us to further develop our line of research on the embodiment of robots and how specific embodied, humanoid and animaloid features contribute to their social capabilities.” 

The delegation represented three Australian universities – UNSW, Monash and Western Sydney – and also included UNSW academics Professor Mari Velonaki, Professor Maurice Pagnucco and Dr Eduardo Sandoval. 

“Their talks evidenced the diversity and depth of the research in robotics and automation at UNSW,” Dr Cappuccio said.   

“With their presentations, the delegates demonstrated that UNSW is not only committed to excellence in technological research, but also aims to support human development and the civil progress of society. 

“We hope that the future editions of this symposium could feature all the other distinguished UNSW researchers who significantly contribute to research in AI and automation.”