Meet ‘RoboReceptionist,’ a Qatari university’s new helping hand

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A Qatar university has welcomed a unique new staff member; a robotic receptionist who talks in both English and Arabic.

The robo-receptionist has been named HALA, meaning "welcome" in Arabic, and is set to greet visitors at the Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

HALA has even been provided with an online profile on the university’s website, her academic qualifications include a B.Sc. in Weather Prediction and a rather cheeky Ph.D. in Rejecting Marriage Proposals.

The robot will soon be able to read human facial expressions when upgrades are installed.

“We have been busy deploying and administering an experiment to measure human perception of politeness versus directness across two groups, native Arabic and native English speakers. Preliminary observations look promising but we’re still analyzing the data,” said Majd Sakr, Associate Teaching Professor of Computer Science at CMU-Q in an interview with The Peninsula Qatar.

“What we have found so far is that expressions for positive emotions are easy to identify, however, negative emotions (sadness, anger, disappointment) are harder to recognize. More interestingly, accents in expressions of disappointment seem to be culturally driven,” said Sakr.

There are also plans to take HALA out of the university, making the robot more accessible to the public.

“We are in the process of designing a new body that will make her more portable. If and when we do so, we will be able to take her into the community,” added the professor.