Talking robots: examining strategies for engaging publics with robotics

The project focused on public attitudes towards robotics and how people engage.

Robotics encompasses a broad range of academic disciplines including engineering, biology, neuroscience, psychology and artificial intelligence.

About the Project

Robotics is a significant area of emerging science, and one where views regarding fact and fiction are particularly confused. How will robots impact on our daily lives? How intelligent are robots? What do robots tell us about the meaning of life? These are just a few of the questions we may pose about future developments.

The research conducted during this project complimented existing projects instigated by the Science Communication Unit (SCU), which has an extensive history of bringing innovative, exciting and complex issues in science and technology to people. Talking Robots united two areas of emerging interest. The project focused on public attitudes towards robotics (as an up and coming area of science and technology). How do individuals view robotics research? What are particular public concerns about robotic technologies? The project also focused on how people engage.

Participant reactions to a series of eleven engagement events with a robotic focus were studied. This research recognises the multi-faceted nature of engagement, and investigated the opinions of both audience members and providers (presenters and/or experts). View the project summary and its aims and objectives (PDF).

We would like to thank the ESRC for their generous support of the project.

The UWE Bristol press office has also prepared a press release on the project.

Project Update

Talking Robots ended in August 2008. Over the duration of the project we visited, observed and collected data at eleven engagement activities (PDF) involving an estimated 500 people and carried out semi-structured interviews with 61 participants. The project utilised activities from the Walking with Robots project, as well as those convened by a number of external organisations. Over the summer we have been busy analysing the data (PDF) collected throughout the project, we have been using the computer programme NVivo and a method called Ritchie and Spencer's (1994) Five Step Framework. You can find out more about the project, methods and initial findings in this preliminary research report.

Advisory Group

A project advisory group was consulted throughout the project comprising (in alphabetical order): Professor Stuart Allan (The Media School, Bournemouth University), Professor Frank Burnet (Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol), Professor Peter Glasner (School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University), Dr Tony Hirst (Department of ICT, Open University) and Professor Alan Winfield (Bristol Robotics Laboratory).


Ethical approval for this project was granted by the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences (now known as the College of Health, Science and Society), UWE Bristol and followed the guidelines on ethical research of the British Sociological Association and ESRC Research Ethics Framework. View the information sheets (PDF) and consent forms (PDF) for interviewees, alongside the information posters (PDF) which were prominently displayed when we carried out our observations.


So far you may have seen us discussing the project at a range of conferences and locations. The project has been discussed in conference papers, posters and panel sessions at the BSA Annual Conference 2008, Robofesta 2007/2008, the Involve National Conference 2008, the BIG Annual Event 2008, ECSITE Annual Conference 2008 and the BA Science Communication Conference 2008. We have many further papers planned for 2009 and are currently preparing three academic papers for publication in the journals Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science and Interaction Studies. Download a recent poster presentation (PDF).

Contribute your views

The Talking Robots project has now finished, however there are still opportunities to find out more about robotics and contribute your views on the emerging fields. The Walking with Robots network provides information on upcoming robotics events in the UK.

Find out more...

We would like to thank everyone who contributed their views, interactions or time to the Talking Robots project. If you participated in the project and would like additional information now that the project has ended please contact Clare Wilkinson at or tel: +44 (0)117 32 82146.

If you are a science communicator or practitioner and would like to receive a copy of a short report on the project in preparation, please e-mail your name and address to Clare Wilkinson at

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