In times of crisis, people tend to look to technology for solutions that bridge critical gaps. For UCI students in PSYCH 112R: Cognitive Robotics, building socially assistive robots, or SARS, has been their quarter-long challenge. Their work culminated this week in fully functional robots whose skill sets range from the primarily practical Wall-E V2 who distributes hand sanitizer and the helpful Companion Robot who delivers cough drops and jokes, to Wall-E Got Your Back, a massage robot, and an adorable interactive emotional support robot seal who purrs and moves like a pet when held to help reduce stress.

“Socially Assistive Robotics is a field of robotics that focuses on assisting users through social and physical interaction,” says Jeff Krichmar, UCI cognitive sciences professor and course instructor. “Just as a good coach or teacher can provide motivation, guidance, and support, socially assistive robots attempt to provide the appropriate emotional, cognitive, and social cues to encourage development, learning, or therapy for an individual.”

Social sciences psychology majors Gianna Bandoni, Luke Keating (double major in computer science), and Zili Zhong had fellow Anteaters in mind when they created their emotional support seal for their final project.

“Research has proven petting animals aids in the reduction of tension in high stress situations,” says Bandoni. “Many colleges bring therapy dogs on campus during finals to provide the benefits of comfort and support from a furry friend. As real animals take a lot of work and care, the utilization of socially assistive robots makes the robot appealing – and more available - to more subjects.” 

While the projects are course staple each year, Krichmar was particularly impressed with the potential for impact among the winter quarter submissions. “Given what everyone was and is going through this year, I was blown away with how creative, thoughtful and timely these projects were. Not just one or two teams, but all of them!”

Check out all of PSYCH 112R’s innovative inventions, courtesy of Krichmar’s YouTube channel and learn more about the on-going research happening in his Cognitive Anteater Robotics Lab at UCI.


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