QUT roboticist Belinda Ward with Pepper, a social robot that may be part of student services in the future.
QUT roboticist Belinda Ward with Pepper, a social robot that may be part of student services in the future.

Spicing up student services

Meet Pepper – QUT’s latest robot recruit.

The world’s first personal humanoid robot that can recognise emotions, Pepper will ultimately form part of HiQ, the new student experience at QUT.

HiQ interactivity
An interactive digital wall that uses ‘gesture and swipe’ interactivity is the centrepiece of HiQ.

Students now have the most advanced and interactive digital campus experience in Australia thanks to the project to transform student engagement at the university.

HiQ, an Australia-first digital student services hub, enhances the student experience through a combination of state-of-the-art technology and peer-to-peer support.

A 17.5 metre-wide (42m2), interactive digital wall is the centrepiece of HiQ, complemented by self-service touchscreens giving students access to a wealth of information ranging from on-campus events to computer availability.

Hiq signThe wall uses ‘gesture and swipe’ interactivity enabled by Kinect cameras, similar to that used in video gaming.

Harnessing software used by global companies including Disney, Pixar and Mercedes-Benz, the screen is designed to maximise interactivity between people and digital content.

Several students can interact with it at once, and the wall showcases student work and opportunities, like testimonial videos from those on overseas exchanges. The displays can sync with more than 200 digital screens across QUT’s three campuses.

A new mobile app and refurbished student website have also been rolled out with HiQ, and student concierges are available to help with enquiries.

In the future, the HiQ experience may include interacting with Pepper. QUT is working on connecting Pepper to an AI assistant, a question-answering computer system that incorporates artificial intelligence, analytical software and machine learning.

The pairing will allow Pepper to ask questions of the students to refine their queries and give them the information they seek.

QUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Technology, Information and Library Services, Judy Stokker, said HiQ represented a new era for student engagement.

“HiQ is a one-stop shop for students to access information and services in a seamless and streamlined way,” she said.

“We have collaborated with students throughout the process and delivered a student-centred approach that meets the needs of the modern student through the latest technology.”

Ms Stokker said QUT is also concurrently working with Eight Inc., designers of the original Apple Store experience, to reimagine and design the future state of the student engagement experience.

“HiQ focuses on student services through mobile first, smart search capability, and interactive displays. More complex needs will continue to be supported via chat, phone and face-to-face interactions,” she said.

“Our physical spaces are vibrant and will assist and engage students, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in their QUT experience.”

The digital wall, which is housed within the V Block library at QUT’s Gardens Point campus, was designed and built by audio visual specialists Corporate Initiatives. The software was developed by Videro.

A second HiQ service point is located at the R Block library at Kelvin Grove campus.

As well as its potential role with HiQ, Pepper, created by SoftBank Robotics, will be used for a social robotics program.

The robot mimics human behaviours such as following a conversation by looking at whomever is talking.

QUT roboticist Belinda Ward (pictured previous page) said social robots like Pepper have real potential to change society.

“The degree to which social robots could change society is the basis of our new research program,” said Ms Ward, from the Science and Engineering Faculty and Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.

HiQ interactive

“Pepper is probably the most ‘personable’ robot on the market in terms of its perceived emotional intelligence, making it a fantastic platform to investigate the suitability of social robots, which is still a very new field.

“What we learn from human-computer interactions with Pepper will inform the next generation of service robots, building an effective social component into their task-oriented programming.”

The $1.5 million social robotics program is funded by the state government’s Advance Queensland initiative.

Ms Ward said her team would explore the different applications of these robots across a range of settings and conditions, and their effectiveness in each.

“While a social robot in every home is probably a long way off, I see a place for social robots supporting human staff in every hospital, aged care facility and classroom, as companions and helpers—and there are no doubt many more settings we haven’t even considered yet,” she said.

Pepper’s strong student focus will also see it spend time interacting with students and the public at The Cube, the university’s signature science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) engagement space.

QUT students and visiting high school students will also be able to experiment with Pepper, coding programs for her to run.