U of G robot helps pupils at Indian school increase handwashing

Credit: University of Glasgow

Tara Gandhi
Editor-in-Chief

The robot, built in partnership with Amrita University, could help protect children from life-threatening illnesses caused by poor hygiene.

A collaboration between the University of Glasgow and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in India has created a robot to encourage hand washing in children.

The robot, nicknamed “Pepe”, has a mouth and eyes to help attract children’s attention, and can be tele-operated by researchers who guide the children through the process. The robot is currently in use at a rural school in Kerela, South India, where it is used by about 100 school children aged between five and 10.

Since Pepe has been installed, handwashing at the school has increased by 40% and more than 95% of the children know when they need to use soap. On average the children are washing their hands for twice as long.

More than 90% of the children said they liked Pepe and would like to see it after they come back from the school holidays.

Dr Amol Deshmukh, from the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science, led the project in partnership with researchers from Amrita University. He said Pepe is the first social robotics study to try to improve the lives of children like this, and none of the children had ever interacted with a robot before.

Dr Deshmukh said: “Social robots could potentially create a positive impact in their lives, but they have rarely been tested with people from rural backgrounds in developing countries. This research helps in identifying a valuable and viable use case for social robots in rural populations in developing countries.”

In the future, Dr Deshmukh wants to develop autonomous technology for the social robot so it is capable of interacting with children without any input from humans. He also wants to carry out wide-scale deployments in rural schools to measure the effectiveness of this type of social robotics.