Wired for sound: friendly robots project wins high-profile research communications challenge

Research that could bring to life an idea from the movie Big Hero 6 – a friendly healthcare robot who can inspire trust from humans – has won a major comms prize for early-career researchers.

UNSW Scientia PhD candidate Frederic Robinson won this year’s top prize – the Vice-Chancellors’ Award – in the Universities Australia Pitch It Clever research communications challenge tonight.

Hs winning video explained his research on integrating speakers into robots and smart environments to make sound when parts move or to react to touch – and its potential application.

It comes amid projections that Australia will need a bigger workforce in coming decades to cope with demand for aged care and health services, and robots could help to meet that challenge.

Mr Robinson won a $3000 cash prize and a week’s residency at The Conversation media outlet.

The young UNSW researcher said sound was incredibly powerful to convey emotion and shape how we perceive the world around us.

“If you imagine a social robot in a health care context, it’s not enough that the robot just works. It also needs to be perceived as safe, reliable, trustworthy,” he said.

“It can only do what it is supposed to do – which is to help – if people are comfortable around it. Sound can play a significant role in this situation.”

“Ultimately I am looking to create design principles for the sonification of robots and smart environments to refine the communication between humans and machines and to hopefully enrich the way we interact with technology.”

University of Wollongong PhD candidate Kayla Steele won second prize – the Universities Australia Award – for her work on supporting parents with complex mental health conditions.

Anna Singleton, a University of Sydney PhD candidate and Westmead Applied Research Centre Research Associate won the People’s Choice Award. Her research seeks to modernise follow-up care for breast cancer survivors.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson commended all three winners – and all the early career researchers who had entered.

“Every year this competition showcases the brilliant emerging talent coming up through the ranks of our university research departments,” she said.

“It helps our talented early career academics take their research out of the laboratory or field, and capture the imagination and interest of the wider public.”

“This competition has helped to propel previous winners to new opportunities and profile, which was our aim in establishing it. I have no doubt we will see this year’s winners do the same.”

The 2020 Pitch It Clever competition is generously supported by The Conversation.

This year’s entries are on the 2020 Pitch It Clever site.

The competition challenges early career researchers to communicate their research to a public audience in a clear and compelling one to-two-minute video.

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