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Meet Pineapple: The future of social robotics is right here in Griffin Hall

By Moe Daniels
NKU College of Informatics

It’s no secret that the College of Informatics at NKU is at home in the most technologically advanced building on campus — Griffin Hall.

But Griffin Hall is also home to Pineapple.

Meet the latest robot to be showcased by Dr. Austin Lee, an assistant professor of communication at NKU, and Dr. Jake Liang, an assistant professor of communication at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Dr. Lee and Dr. Liang are using Pineapple to conduct studies on how humans interact socially when a robot is present. The name Pineapple was chosen because it is gender-neutral and the robot resembles a pineapple.

“This is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing,” said Dr. Liang. “So seeing this [robot] in person is probably giving you a very different vibe than if I had a computer opened and was showing you a compute program.”

Fast forward two years and students may even see a new course from the communication department taught by Dr. Lee on social robotics.

“The class that we are developing for Fall 2016 is more of designing interaction for robots,” said Dr. Lee. “We are approaching social robotics at different angles.”

(Dr. Lee laughs and jokingly says they plan to build an army of robots.)

Dr. Lee and Dr. Liang know that many people believe robots will displace their jobs. Both are avid that this is not the case; the robots merely act as helpers.

“I think what’s kind of interesting to keep in mind is that a lot of what we’ve been doing for the last 20 years has been replaced by technology,” said Dr. Liang. “This is just the next step, right? It’s nothing that hasn’t been happening. But what’s cool about robots and what they can do is that it’s not really displacing people. I’m actually collecting some data right now about fear. People are fearful that robots would displace their jobs, but they don’t really do that. They just make the jobs that we do better.”

Drew Boehmker and Anne Thompson, students in the Master of Arts in Communication program at NKU, are working as graduate research assistants for Dr. Lee and Dr. Liang.  

Boehmker would like to see how people interact with robots if they were given human characteristics such as gender-based names or certain colors.

Although the research won’t be completed until the end of the school year, Dr. Lee is grateful for the College of Informatics for allowing them to use Griffin Hall to host their studies on social robotics.

“I think that the college that we have, informatics, is the perfect setting for this kind of research,” said Dr. Lee.