Ryerson and McMaster Universities launch joint robotics research project

pepper the robot

Ryerson University and McMaster University have launched the Smart Robots for Health Communication project, a joint research initiative dedicated to introducing social robotics and AI in clinical health care.

The Smart Robots for Health Communication project is a collaboration between David Harris Smith, a professor in the department of communication studies and multimedia at McMaster; Frauke Zeller, professor in the school of professional communication at Ryerson; and Hermenio Lima, a dermatologist and professor of medicine at McMaster’s school of medicine.

Ryerson and McMaster universities said they will use Softbank’s humanoid robot Pepper and IBM Bluemix Watson Cognitive Services to study health information exchange. Through the project, the universities hope to develop and analyze physical and virtual human-robot interactions, which can also lead to insights on how to better understand patient behavior.

“We see this as the initiation of an ongoing collaborative university and industry research program to develop and test applications of embodied AI, a research program that is well-positioned to integrate and apply emerging improvements in machine learning and social robotics innovations,” said Harris Smith.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to potentially transform patient engagement in a clinical setting.”
– Hermenio Lima

Zeller said Pepper, which is capable of reading emotions, moving, and adapting to its environment, will help the universities identify “important aspects and motives of human behavior and communication.” The universities also said that with the support of IBM Canada and SOSCIP — which are supporting the integration of IBM Watson and Pepper — the researchers will gain access to high-performance research computing resources and staff in Ontario.

Zeller and Harris Smith have previously worked together on hitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot that travelled across Canada and the United States. Pepper was funded by the Co-lab at Ryerson’s faculty of communication and design.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to potentially transform patient engagement in a clinical setting, and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes by adapting to clients’ communications needs,” said Lima.

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer and content creator at BetaKit with a strong interest in Canadian startup, business, and legal tech news. In her free time, Amira indulges in baking desserts, working out, and watching legal shows.