Bangor Uni robot petting zoo 'tests people's feelings'

media captionSad robot or happy robot - which would you choose?

Happy or sad, grumpy and mad - what sort of personality should a robot have?

It is a question scientists have posed with the help of a resident artist at a Welsh university.

For a week, the public is being invited to a "Robot Petting Zoo" at Bangor University - where robot vacuum cleaners display different behaviours.

Psychologists there said they want to see how people react to the varied emotions on show.

Prof Emily Cross, who is co-director of Bangor's Social Brain in Action Laboratory, said the event was about getting the public engaged with science and to examine issues around robotics.

"We applied for some funding to think about ways we could get social robotics and questions about human interactions with robots into a public setting," she explained.

"We have lots of clever laboratory experiments where we can look at this, in controlled environments, but here we can bring those questions to the public.

"We can get passersby of all shapes, sizes, ages, cultures taking part."

image captionArtist Merel Bekking and psychologist Prof Emily Cross want to understand more about how we interact with robots

Everyone visiting the experiment at the Bangor Pontio centre gets a cup of "food" - coloured plastic beads - to feed the robots, who then sweep-up their snacks in a specially designed petting zoo pen.

"These six vacuum cleaning robots, they have all their own characters," said artist Merel Bekking, who came up with the robot concept.

"One is very grumpy, there is a happy one, there is a scared one as well, and they are all roaming around here in our petting zoo, and we ask the public to feed them and vote for their favourite one."

While the event is partly an art installation, the psychologists insist there is also science at work.

"We are keeping a scientific tally and track of how people are voting for their favourite robots, so we will get an idea, scientifically, as to which type of vacuuming robot personality people like the best," added Prof Cross.

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