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Social robot SAMbuddy wins Computable Award 2021

10 November 2021
Social robot SAMbuddy won the Computable Award 2021, in the education project category. The talking cuddly toy, developed by VU Amsterdam, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, and others, is designed for children who want to get something off their chest, for example when they are being bullied.

The SAMbuddy is a cuddly toy with a computer inside, which children can talk to by pressing buttons. The social robot was developed by the Media Psychology research group of VU Amsterdam, the Social Robotics programme of HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, and a number of social companies.

Matthijs Smakman is doing his PhD at the Faculty of Social Sciences of VU Amsterdam (supervisor prof. dr. Elly Konijn) and is programme coordinator and lecturer of the Social Robotics programme in Utrecht. He is one of the project leaders behind the SAMbuddy. "We know that one in five children in primary education experiences bullying and that one in three children never tells an adult," Smakman explains. "We also know that children open up easily to cuddly toys and robots and share secrets with them. Therefore, the question was: can we make a cuddly toy that children trust and thus give them a better time at school?"

The various partners took up this idea in cooperation with primary schools, so the social robot could be tested in practice right away. "We saw that children trusted the SAMbuddy very much," says Smakman. "We also saw that the robot can help with stress reduction, for example when children have a tantrum."

The ICT publication Computable awards prizes annually to projects that have distinguished themselves in ICT. The jury called it "noteworthy that a consortium of organisations from different fields of expertise (such as social robotics and psychology) have joined forces with the aim of creating something that really matters.” The jury also praised the purpose of the SAMbuddy. "A social robot can really make a difference in education, especially for children who are being bullied and need to share their stories. At the same time, it eases the workload of teachers, which is an additional benefit."

Smakman: "This award is a great recognition for the team that worked on this project. It is an extra incentive to continue developing this project. We have noticed that there is a lot of interest from schools and care institutions." In addition to further rolling out the existing SAMbuddy, the team is going to look at whether the robot can act more autonomously. Smakman: "We want to use artificial intelligence so that the robot can respond to the needs of the child right away."