The social robots are here! New double PhD program launched

We stand at the beginning of a technological revolution. A revolution where interacting with robots in our daily lives is no longer a futuristic concept. They are here!

We see robots moving from behind the scenes such as factory floors making cars to robots interacting with customers serving food, dishing out ice-cream, assisting doctors, providing medication in aged care facilities or providing advice in customer service centres. We call these robots social robots.

Research about how humans want to interact with robots as service providers is only emerging. For instance, we know that people can be fearful about social robots – research has shown that people only trust a robot as long as it’s not smarter than them – and robots need to offer value not just to the customer but to the customer’s friends and family.

The topic of human interaction with social robots will be the area of study for BEST student Chelsea Phillips as our first ever PhD student in the newly minted double PhD program between QUT and Maastricht University, Netherlands.

Some of the big questions that Chelsea will address are:

  • How can we enable the best customer experience for different types of customers?
  • What makes people accept or resist interacting with social robots?
  • What is the emotional, social and functional role of social robots who are service providers?
  • Are there differences in customer responses based on the level of contact needed with the service?

So how will Chelsea go about answering these questions? As part of the double degree she will conduct experiments both online and in the behavioural lab of the BEST centre. She will also go on location in Maastricht and observe social robots in the wild – Maastricht has great access to social robots being used in both restaurant and aged care settings

Chelsea will be well supported by the supervisors at QUT (Prof Rebekah Russell-Bennett of the BEST centre and Prof. Marek Kowalkiewicz from the Centre for Digital Economy) and Maastricht University (Prof. Gaby Odekerken-Schröder and Prof. Dominik Mahr).

The official signing of the agreement between QUT and Maastricht University took place on 3 December 2020 via a live zoom session. We look forward to seeing the fruitful efforts of this QUT and Maastricht University partnership.