Issue date: 15 May 2008
Public interest in the impact of robots is overwhelming according to an evaluation of Robot Thought a tour of public engagement events organised by experts at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
Robot Thought, a programme of events focusing on the impact of robots toured the UK for over two years from 2005 to late 2007, visiting Science Centres and Festivals in Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Wrexham and Newcastle. Audiences flocked to learn more about how robots impact on our daily lives. The shows asked questions like – would you like to have your house cleaned by a robot? Would you trust a robot babysitter? If a fully functioning, thinking robot could be developed, would you consider it human?
The shows were aimed primarily at families with children aged between 5 and 7 but the research shows that the interest was far more wide ranging with a significant interest from teenagers.
Dr Karen Bultitude, Senior Lecturer at the Science Communication Unit at UWE, led the team who devised the Robot Thought programme. She said, “We knew that people were interested in robots but the Robot Thought tour generated audience levels way beyond our anticipated 7,000 over the two years. We attracted over 30,000 people to the series of events.
“We found that people liked to see 'real' robots (research robots) and that there were also great benefits for the Science Centres we worked with who had in most cases not worked with roboticists as closely before. Our show provided an overview of the key issues and current thinking in robotics and audiences got the chance to take part in informed dialogue at workshops. Many of the science centres we have worked with will continue to run robotics events and shows as a part of their normal activity.
“In terms of value for money the events have represented excellent value as we reached far beyond our anticipated audience. Comments from participants illustrate the value of the work in educational terms.”
“The Show generated a wider interest as to how we can explore robots at home.”
“I'm still not sure if a washing machine is one.”
“I learnt how much more impact they can have on our daily life.”
“I found it interesting cos (sic) I didn't know I had robots in my house.”
“I thought it was good and interesting and most of all I liked the real robots.”
Dr Bultitude concludes, “I think what is most valuable about doing this kind of public engagement programme is that we raise awareness of an important aspect of science that is impacting on our daily lives and that we get people talking about the issues. Introducing young people to issues in an accessible way as possible is at the heart of what we do and the team is delighted that Robot Thought went down a storm. We are also delighted that we have developed such strong working relationships with all of the Science Centres we worked with and we are looking forward to offering ongoing support with robotics events and developing future collaborations.”
Robot Thought was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and was delivered in partnership with four robotics laboratories across the UK: the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (UWE), the Cricket Lab at the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh; the Robotics Outreach Group at the Open University, and the Intelligent Robotics Group at the University of Aberystwyth.
For more information about the Science Communication Unit at UWE go to http://www.scu.uwe.ac.uk
Specific details about the Robot Thought national rollout are available here