Social robotics help move towards a more inclusive society

A team of designers, psychologists, audio consultants and robotics specialists has developed an inclusive sound environment that helps people with neurodiversity enjoy live music.

The application distributes sound through multiple channels to create exciting auditory experiences without being overwhelming. The interface, a creative collaboration between Dickens Audio, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Ageing Futures Institute and the UNSW Creative Robotics Lab, will be co-designed with people with neurodiversity.

The project lead, Dr Scott Brown from the UNSW Creative Robotics Lab, says neurodivergent people often process sensory input in unique ways, impacting their opportunity to enjoy music in public spaces. “Traditional performance venues and approaches to sound and visuals can be overwhelming. Our goal in is to create an experience that is inclusive and adaptive to individual preferences.”

One in eight Australians is neurodiverse. The umbrella term includes people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dyslexia, Tourette’s Syndrome, Dyscalculia, difficulty applying maths principles, and Dysgraphia, difficulty converting language sounds to text. Experts are starting to see the adoption and scheduling of sensorily adaptive spaces, from quiet rooms at sporting events to movie screenings with reduced volume and gentle lighting.

Dr Belinda Dunstan, who specialises in designing for diversity, social robot appearance design and technology ethics, and Dr Deborah Turnbull Tillman, an expert in curatorial and exhibition/event design, technology and New Media, are collaborating on the two-year project Compelling human-robot interactions helps move to a more inclusive society. Social robotics is a robotic system designed with the public as a user.

The three-year project, supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, will conduct an analysis of insurance claims databases, a large consumer survey and a naturalistic driving study to gather evidence on how ageing and cognition interact with assistive technology in cars. The research will inform older drivers, government policymakers and industry and assist in enhancing road safety. The Lab’s industry collaborations have broad reach, from developing a social robot to aid collaboration within office environments in partnership with Fuji Xerox to creating a technological interface to improve cognitive performance and resilience with the Australian Army.

A walking frame that doubles as an assistive device that re-directs users home can help someone with dementia regain the confidence to step outside their front door, she says. These projects have more in common than you might think, she says. Despite their diverse situational context, aesthetics and personalisation remain intrinsic to their design.

In 2018, the International Federation of Robotics projected that more than 22 million robots would be sold for personal and domestic use the following year, at more than US$4.6 billion. Japan has made a substantial investment in robotic assistance to aid its ageing population. Social robots are one physical manifestation of digitalisation-enablement, which, in addition to the AI perspective, offers additional values through aesthetics and tactile parameters, to enrich the quality of interaction.