Ideas

Brainiac

Innovation of the Week: Robo-counselor for couples

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What is it? A robotic couples counselor

Innovator: Northeastern University professors Dina Utami, Timothy W. Bickmore, and Louis J. Kruger

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What were they thinking? Everyone’s relationship could benefit from therapy. But baring your soul to a psychologist you’ve never met can be a little embarrassing. So a team of Northeastern computer science and psychology professors has developed a counselor who doesn’t seem so judgey — a robot described in their academic paper as a “humanoid head” mounted on a “two degree-of-freedom mechanical neck” that walks couples through exercises in improved communication.

Did it work? The paper, recently accepted for this summer’s International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication, found couples generally liked the experience of chatting with the humanoid head. “Robots don’t judge,” said one test subject. Still, a majority said they’d prefer a human counselor over Dr. Robot. One 67-year-old study participant said she just “could not take it seriously.”

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