The National Science Foundation is spending over $1 million to build a "friendly social robot" that will gather mental health information on high school students.
The agency awarded the University of Washington $1,067,001 to develop a robot named "EMAR" that researchers hope will be able to "inform decision-making" of administrators at public high schools in the state.
"This award supports project EMAR (Ecological Momentary Assessment Robot), a timely interdisciplinary project that will research, develop, and deploy a user-friendly social robot that gathers teen mental health data in a public high school setting," the grant for the project states.
Researchers say the project is necessary because "investigating the interactions between teens and robots has been largely overlooked."
"Such an investigation is needed since adolescents are very likely to have long-lasting relationships with robots in the future at work, in the classroom, and at home," the grant states. "It [is] also needed especially since adolescents constitute a vulnerable population that is negatively affected by stress and mental health issues, and since there are well-established difficulties in gathering accurate, useful, mental health data from teens in their natural environment with digital surveys and experience sampling using static data collection tools including computers, tablets, and smart phones."
The robot EMAR gathers "stress and mood data from teens throughout their school day and shares that data in aggregate with the school community."
"This is how we get a pulse on the teen community at school to better understand how students are feeling," according to a university blog post introducing the robot last fall.
The university received a grant for this research in August, and the project began Sept. 1. Research and funding likely will continue through August 2020.
The research will show the "potential impact of a social robot as a data gathering device," according to the grant.
"It will also facilitate assessing the feasibility of using a robot to gather real-time data for aggregation into visual data that would serve to inform decision-making and evaluation of interventions; such an ability would be especially useful in school environments where teens need more support," the grant states.