In April-May 2021, the Tele-Encounters: Beyond the Human project team organised six workshops for the creation of robot concepts together with adults and children in Romania, Spain, and Italy. The two workshops taking place in each country were coordinated by an interdisciplinary team of theatre directors, 3D modelling and animation artists, roboticists and roboethicists. The main question we sought to answer with the participants’ help was "What makes a social robot agreeable or disagreeable to humans?"
The activities aimed to familiarise the general public with current developments in social robotics and to stimulate them to ask critical questions about our future with technology. The audience were then invited to imagine an ideal social robot that could assist an elderly person in the years to come, always with an eye to ethics. They could place their imaginary robot anywhere on the scale from reality (what already exists) to fiction (what does not exist – at least not yet).
The robot models our participants created are the protagonists of this publication. But that is not all. The robot concepts are morphing under the skilful touch of a team of young 3D artists from Romania (Alin Sîrbu), Spain (Juan José Arnau), and Italy (Alessandra Piras), coordinated by prof. Rocío Martínez (UCAM, ES). The participants’ “robot visions” are thus inspiring 6 virtual robots that are being built in 3D. While the artists will not reproduce any one specific model, they will use the characters created by participants as imagination springboards. Similar to video game characters, the 6 “virtual beings” will be uploaded to a custom-built website, where each will receive a spark of life via a chatbot (that is, an Artificial Intelligence capable of replying to user input in writing or spoken language). Each virtual robot will also have a limited set of short animated reactions.
The children and adults who took part in our workshops also completed pre and post questionnaires that mapped their attitude towards technology in general and social robots in particular. Their replies, alongside the robots they designed, will be analysed by UCAM university in a qualitative study on people’s perception of social robots for elderly care.
Workshop coordinators in Romania:
Marina Hanganu – theatre director, artistic director of Tele-Encounters
Ana-Maria Stancu – robotics expert, CEO Bucharest Promo Robots, founder of RoboHub.ai, E-Civis, board member of EU Robotics
Assist. Prof. Dr. Constantin Vică – roboethics expert, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and researcher at the Research Centre in Applied Ethics, University of Bucharest
Iulia Petronela Ioniță – 3D modelling and animation artist, recent graduate of the MA in Game Design at UNATC I.L.Caragiale Bucharest
Workshop coordinators in Italy:
Dr. Fiorella Operto - President of Scuola di Robotica - the place of birth of roboethics
Emanuele Micheli - robotics expert, Scuola di Robotica
Ermanno Nardi - theatre director, artistic director of Industria Scenica
Alessandra Piras - 3D modelling and animation artist
Industria Scenica project management: Isnaba Miranda and Paola Cagna
Workshop coordinators in Spain:
Prof. Rocío Martinez Montiel - 3D modelling and animation expert
Prof. Javier Galindo - theatre director
Prof. Dr. Raquel Martínez and Prof. Magdalena Cantabella - IT and robotics experts
Prof. M. Carmen Ballester - ethics expert
Prof. Dr. Jorge Hernández - sound engineer
Juan José Arnau - 3D artist
UCAM project manager: Prof. Dr. Isabel Sarabia
 Roboethics is a branch of applied ethics that studies the ethics of designing, developing and employing robots. It was defined as a “human-centric ethics” by the proponents of the field – see Veruggio, G., Operto, F., Roboethics: A Bottom-up Interdisciplinary Discourse in the Field of Applied Ethics in Robotics in International Review of Information Ethics, Vol. 6 (12/2006), p. 2-8.
Read the brochure which contains the robot models devised by children and adults in Romania, Spain and Italy (pdf).
Photos from workshops held in Romania (© Teatrul George Ciprian):
Photos from workshops held in Spain (©UCAM):
Photos from workshops held in Italy (©Industria Scenica):
The Journalism Workshop for teenagers ran in parallel with the robot development workshops. Led by journalist Georgiana Vlădoiu, the teenage volunteers of Teatrul “George Ciprian” have documented the whole process. Here you can see their news reports and vlogs (in Romanian – no subtitles available yet, sorry). Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and curiosity!
Documentation videos of the workshops held by Industria Scenica (Italy) in April 2021: