KASPAR the robot – Something different on Cool Stuff Collective

The something different in the title refers both to the content of the future tech slot and also the format of it again this week. Saturday saw the first showing of this weeks Cool Stuff Collective (available now on the ITV player) and features the rather unusual KASPAR robot and one of his creators Dr Ben Robins.
This future tech I got to be a full on TV presenter. I.e I did the intro and link into and out of the item and interviewed Dr Robins. It was great fun to do, and as I had a raging sore throat at the time it was good that someone else could do the talking.
However (my TV presenting CV enhancement aside), how we did the item is less important than what the item was about.
KASPAR is part of an EU project looking at the minimal expressions needed in a robot rather than aiming for 100% realism. In a way this lives in and around the uncanny valley rather than trying to cross it.
Dr Robins’ specialism though is in using various techniques to aid children with varying levels of autism to engage with other people initially mediated through KASPAR.
The robot is not an autonomous one (though it could be), instead it is a mix of responsive sensors and touch sensitive skin and the skill of the mediator to puppet him in an interaction with someone.
We had a good chat in the “green room” (a.k.a. Staff room) before the piece as often robots are considered as replacing people.
Dr Robins was keen to point out that in the delicate human relationships that need to form in helping those with autism the robot becomes a conduit for the teacher to engage with the student. This is because this is about therapy, not technology.
The look of KASPAR seemed to divide both the crew and the audience from fascination to being a little freaked out by him. It is precisely the open nature and blend of tech and features that appears to endear him to those students that Dr Robins works with though.
It was a real honour to have something that is part of some very different research in robotics that is aimed at making a real difference to peoples lives.
Dr Robins was also a great sport in the “oooh touchy” storming off that he did, as he is a massive Asimov fan but the script asked him to play otherwise just for the long running joke. He did this with great charm and a smile on his face too.
You can read more about KASPAR and the wider project here.

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