Abstract: In recent years, the field of socially assistive robotics for promoting wellbeing has witnessed a notable surge in research activity. It is increasingly recognized within the realms of social robotics and human-robot interaction (HRI) that robots have the potential to function as valuable instruments for evaluating, sustaining, and enhancing various aspects of human wellbeing, including physical, mental, and emotional health. At the Cambridge Affective Intelligence and Robotics Lab (https://cambridge-afar.github.io/), our work on creating robotic coaches for mental wellbeing started in 2019 with a 5-year funding from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Since then, we have engaged in a series of studies, employing an iterative approach that integrates user-centric design, testing, and deployment in both controlled laboratory settings and real-world contexts, while learning from failure and mistakes and striving to continuously improve our robotic coaches. We have done this by 1) collaborating with experienced human coaches and professionals who currently deliver these interventions, 2) gaining insights into the expectations and perceptions of potential users, and collecting valuable feedback from them, and 3) developing real-time AI and data-driven affective adaptation mechanisms for longitudinal deployment. In this talk, I will share our journey in developing robotic coaches for mental wellbeing and transitioning them from the controlled lab environment to real-world settings, and will illustrate the challenges and opportunities of social robotics for promoting wellbeing with a number of case studies, with insights for short- and long-term adaptation, and highlight the perceptions and expectations of prospective users to guide future research in this area.
Bio: Hatice Gunes is a Professor of Affective Intelligence and Robotics (AFAR) and the Director of the AFAR Lab at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology. Her expertise is in the areas of affective computing and social signal processing cross-fertilising research in multimodal interaction, computer vision, machine learning, social robotics and human-robot interaction. She has published over 165 papers in these areas (H-index=37, citations > 7,700), with most recent works on bias mitigation and fairness for affective computing, multiple appropriate facial reaction generation, graph representation for personality recognition, lifelong and continual learning for facial expression recognition and affective robotics, and longitudinal HRI for wellbeing. She has served as an Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, IEEE Transactions on Multimedia, and Image and Vision Computing Journal, and has guest edited many Special Issues, the latest ones being 2022-23 Int’l Journal of Social Robotics Special Issue on Embodied Agents for Wellbeing, 2021-22 Frontiers in Robotics and AI Special Issue on Lifelong Learning and Long-Term Human-Robot Interaction, and 2020-21 IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing Special Issue on Automated Perception of Human Affect from Longitudinal Behavioural Data. Other research highlights include Outstanding PC Award at ACM/IEEE HRI’23, RSJ/KROS Distinguished Interdisciplinary Research Award Finalist at IEEE RO-MAN’21, Distinguished PC Award at IJCAI’21, Best Paper Award Finalist at IEEE RO-MAN’20, Finalist for the 2018 Frontiers Spotlight Award, Outstanding Paper Award at IEEE FG’11, and Best Demo Award at IEEE ACII’09. Prof Gunes is the former President of the Association for the Advancement of Affective Computing (2017-2019), is/was the General Co-Chair of ACM ICMI’24 and ACII’19, and the Program Co-Chair of ACM/IEEE HRI’20 and IEEE FG’17. She was the Chair of the Steering Board of IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing (2017-2019) and was a member of the Human-Robot Interaction Steering Committee (2018-2021. Her research has been supported by various competitive grants, with funding from Google, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council UK (EPSRC), Innovate UK, British Council, Alan Turing Institute and EU Horizon 2020. In 2019 she was awarded a prestigious EPSRC Fellowship to investigate adaptive robotic emotional intelligence for wellbeing (2019-2025) and has been named a Faculty Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute – UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence (2019-2021). Prof Gunes is a Staff Fellow of Trinity Hall, a Senior Member of the IEEE, and a member of the AAAC.