Child-robot interaction (CRI) art as research practice

David Yann Robert has been actively engaged in child-robot interaction (CRI) research, a sub-category of human-robot interaction (HRI), since 2009.  Beginning with Tofulandia, designed to appeal to children as a robot/video game system to the open-ended, Playtime Computing system with Alphabot, (a blended reality character), Robert's work in CRI has been characterized by a curiosity and fascination with children's imaginative capacities to co-animate new types of characters and contexts of play.  

Robert is interested in the design of pro-social, informal learning interventions as well as the effects of media content on early childhood development. During his graduate work in Media Arts & Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Robert's research into designing user-centered, child-robot-interactions led him to HGSE, where he had the opportunity to supplement his technical education with coursework on the ethical design and evaluation of playful, developmentally-appropriate media for children.

In 2014, Robert co-founded the Center for Children's Speculative Design, an international, non-profit organization created to promote the scholarly study, documentation and active involvement of children's ideas in the design process of alternate futures. 

Together with co-founder Victor van den Bergh, the center openly published the COIRS, a validated scale specifically designed to measure children's openness to interacting with a robot, in an age- and developmentally-appropriate way.  This research evaluation instrument is currently in use in ongoing child-robot interaction studies.

Robert and van den Bergh's CRI research pictorial data sets (children's imagined robots) have been exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney, Australia, the Peabody Essex Museum and at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where the COIRS was designed, under the direction of Dr. Hunter Gehlbach.

Situating his practice on this art/research continuum has given Robert and his CRI collaborators the opportunity to engage in hybrid forms of inquiry, collaboration, knowledge production and idea dissemination.  

Responding to current, commercially-driven trends in robotics, Robert and van den Bergh opened a public discussion about the desired role of sociable robots in children's lives by asking an international group of children, themselves, and co-organizing the Speculative Life Forms experience.

In late 2016, during TRANSOR network's Robophilosophy 2016 conference, philosophically themed by the questions: "What can and should social robots do?", the Children's Imagined Robots exhibition was expanded and improved with an international and interdisciplinary network of collaborators.  The exhibition featured over one hundred drawings of robots designed by children in Denmark, Germany, Russia, Tanzania and the United States.  More information is available here.

Additionally, David Robert and Victor Van den Bergh organized and hosted the First International Workshop on Co-designing Child-Robot Interactions to explore approaches for designing robots for children that incorporate the needs and preferences of children, themselves.  A panel of CRI researchers and Linguistics experts introduced projects in Denmark, Russia and the US providing a valuable cross-cultural perspective and shared new, interdisciplinary research tools.  Workshop participants engaged in a group roboethics imaginative exercise using the children's drawings of robots exhibited at Robophilosophy as a point of departure for a fruitful, hands-on speculative co-design activity.