I am currently working towards my PhD, tentatively entitled “Friend Me Your Ears: Social Bonds and Musical Robots”. Basically, longer term studies into human-robot social interaction present issues with the novelty effect, where an initially positive response recedes over time. This may be attributed to the robots’s lack of highly sophisticated behaviours necessary to maintain a social relationship using language and gesture, and a lack of adaption, development and personalisation. We suggest that using regular, open-ended and adaptive musical activity as the foundation of an interaction, as a pursuit which is naturally progressive and fitted by many into regular routines, may go someway to producing more positive results.

As such, we’ve built a robot. Introducing Mortimer. Mortimer has a moving head and face, two beater arms and a mechanical bass drum and can improvise in real time with human piano players.

Results suggest the more social behaviours you add onto the robot, the more engaged people are and the more they treat it like a social being. This includes playing for longer overall, playing for longer uninterrupted, interrupting the robot less and looking at it more.

Heres a video of me talking about it.