AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s no short supply of media imagining a dystopian future where humans and robots have a less-than-savory relationship. 

Junfeng Jiao, an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture at UT Austin, said it’s not a matter of if robots will be an integral part of our lives but when.

Let’s just hope for WALL-E over the killer robotic “dogs” from Black Mirror.

 “Like it or not, robots will come into our lives in the next 10, 20 (or) 50 years. So we want to be prepared for that,” Jiao said. 

Researchers from the University of Texas recently received grant funding to set up a delivery robotic network on campus– the robots will start being deployed around UT campus in early 2023. They don’t stop there. They will also study what it takes to create and maintain the network and examine study participants’ experiences of co-existing with the devices. 

“(We are) trying to learn how robots can interact with human beings in communities,” Jiao said. 

In addition to observing and interviewing people, some study participants will wear brain sensors while interacting with the robots, according to the press release. These sensors will be designed by Nanshu Lu, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.

“This work could help designers figure out how future public-facing robots should be designed to co-exist within diverse communities like UT Austin’s, as well as how and where they should move,” the press release read. 

One of the robots UT researchers may deploy to deliver goods and study people’s perceptions (Photo courtesy: Frank Martinez)

The researchers will deploy approximately six robots to deliver goods  – such as food or hand sanitizer – and study people’s reactions to the devices, Jiao said. The robots will also vary in appearance, some will have wheels and others legs. They’ll study which type of robot people feel the most comfortable with, Jiao said. 

This study is an interdisciplinary effort, combining engineering research with social science research.

The National Science Foundation gave the project investigators $3.6 million for the project, which expands on a six-year project titled Living and Working with Robots, which began in September of 2021