Mortimer, a drumming robot designed to study long term human-robot relationships


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Scientists have developed a drumming robot, called Mortimer, who can compose music responsively to human pianists in real-time, and also post pictures of the sessions on Facebook.


The research, published in IEEE Transactions on Cognitive and Developmental Systems, looked at how humans interact with robots over time and in particular how social media can enhance that relationship.

“We’d previously uncovered new and exciting findings that suggested open-ended creative activities could be a strong bedrock to build long-term human-robot relationships,” said lead author Louis McCallum from the Queen Mary University of London.

“This particular research sought to examine whether the relationships that were initially developed face-to-face, but under lab conditions, could be extended to the more open, but virtual, realm of social media,” McCallum said.

Relationships between humans and robots require both long-term engagement and a feeling of believability towards the robot.

The researchers contend that music can provide this engagement and developed the robotic drummer, Mortimer, who is able to compose music responsively to human pianists.

To help trigger a sense of believability, the researchers extended Mortimer’s capabilities to allow him to take pictures during sessions and post them with a supporting comment to Facebook while also tagging the keyboard player.

During the study, two groups of participants were chosen.

One group was sent a Facebook friend request from Mortimer allowing the robot to tag them in pictures taken during the session.

The other group was not sent a request and had no contact with the robot outside of the sessions.

Participants took part in six weekly sessions in a controlled studio environment and were instructed to stay for a minimum of 20 minutes but could optionally stay for up to 45.

They were greeted by Mortimer, who communicates via speech synthesis software, and used a tablet to interact with him.

From the Facebook data, the researchers found that there were considerably more ‘likes’ for posts made by a user as opposed to one of Mortimer’s posts that the user was tagged in.

The researchers found that the time spent with the robot increased over the study but session length for the group who were Facebook friends with Mortimer reduced over time.


This may be because the participants had additional contact with Mortimer outside the sessions, the researchers said.


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