Pepe: India-UK collaborated hand-washing robot

A team of researchers from India and United Kingdom collaborated to create a new robot named Pepe which encourages children to wash their hands. The research project outcomes were presented at 28TH IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (held in New Delhi) on Global Handwashing Day 2019 (marked on 15 October every year).

About Robot ‘Pepe’

Bodies involved: The project was led by researchers from University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science in partnership with Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in Kerala. The project is the second ‘social robot’ research project conducted by University of Glasgow and Amrita University. In 2018 they introduced a four wheeled robot to help residents of Ayyampathy in southern India carry 20-litre bottles of water from local well to their homes.

Pepe was recently mounted to the wall above a hand washing station at Wayanad Government Primary School in Kerala as a fresh approach to hygiene. It was used by around 100 pupils aged between 5 and 10 years.

Working: A small video screen mounted behind Pepe”s green plastic exterior acted as a ‘mouth’, which allowed researchers to tele-operate robot to speak to pupils and draw their attention to a poster outlining steps of effective handwashing. A set of moving ‘eyes’ helped create a illusion that Pepe was paying attention to children’s actions.

Findings: The researchers found that Pete helped pupils to wash their hands more effectively and more consistently, boosting their rates of hand washing by 40%. Pupils spent twice as long washing their hands after Pepe’s arrival. After the intervention, more than 95% of students could correctly determine when handwashing with soap has to be done- before a meal and after a visit to toilet.

Why Hand-washing?

As per data from Water Aid India and World Health Organisation (WHO), handwashing is one of the most effective defences against spread of diarrhoea and respiratory infections, which cause deaths of nearly 1,300 young children each day around world (320 of which are in India alone.

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