"Hello, I am Pepper."

So says the star of a new project between McMaster University and Ryerson University, which will play the lead alongside a member of the Faculty of Health Sciences this fall.

The friendly robot is part of the Smart Robots for Health Communication project, a joint research initiative designed to introduce social robotics and artificial intelligence into clinical health care.

Designed to be used in professional environments, Pepper is a humanoid robot that can interact with people, 'read' emotions, learn, move and adapt to its environment, and even recharge on its own. The robot is able to perform facial recognition and develop individualized relationships when it interacts with people.

Pepper will connect with patients later this year at a new downtown Hamilton clinic run by Hermênio Lima, a dermatologist and associate professor of medicine of McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

Lima's main research interests are in the area of immunodermatology and technology applied to human health.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to potentially transform patient engagement in a clinical setting, and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes by adapting to clients' communications needs," said Lima, who is the clinic's director.

The recently announced research project is a collaboration between Lima and David Harris Smith, professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University, Frauke Zeller, professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University.

The initiative involves the development and analysis of physical and virtual human-robot interactions, and has the capability to improve healthcare outcomes by helping health care professionals better understand patients' behaviour.

Zeller and Harris Smith have previously worked together on hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot that travelled across Canada.

The integration of IBM Watson cognitive computing services with Softbank's state-of-the-art social robot, Pepper, offers a rich source of research potential for the projects at Ryerson and McMaster. This integration is also supported by IBM Canada and SOSCIP by providing the project access to high performance research computing resources and staff in Ontario.

Read more on this joint research project here.

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