A SCOTS university has helped launch the world’s first robot that encourages school children to wash their hands.

The green hand-shaped robot called “Pepe” was created by researchers from the University of Glasgow and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in India.

Pepe was trialled at the remote Wayanad Government Primary School in the Kerala region of India, which has around 100 pupils aged between five and ten.

His mouth, a small video screen, allows researchers to use the robot to speak to the pupils, drawing their attention to a poster showing them how to wash their hands. A set of moving eyes help creates the illusion that Pepe is watching what the children are doing.

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The robot has been effective in boosting pupils’ personal hygiene as they spent on average twice as long washing their hands after Pepe’s arrival – increasing their rates of handwashing by 40 per cent.

After it was introduced, more than 95% of the students could correctly determine when handwashing with soap has to be done: before a meal and after a visit to the toilet.

In a questionnaire, more than 90% of the 45 pupils who interacted with the robot said they would like to see Pepe again after school vacation.

Hand-washing is one of the most effective defences against the spread of diarrhoea and respiratory infections, which cause the deaths of around 1,300 young children each day around the world – 320 of which are in India alone.

Dr Amol Deshmukh, from the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science, led the project in partnership with colleagues from Amrita University.

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Dr Deshmukh said: “We chose this particular primary school for our research because the pupils are drawn from scheduled castes and tribes, a segment of the Indian population which is most affected by poor sanitation and hygiene.

“We were delighted by the success of Pepe’s visit to this primary school.

“None of the children had ever interacted with anything like a robot before, but they were excited to interact with this relatively simple machine, which clearly had a positive effect on their efforts to keep their hands clean.

“Social robots could potentially create a positive impact in their lives, but they have rarely been tested with people from rural backgrounds in developing countries. In the future the research will focus on developing autonomous technology for the social robot, so it is capable of interacting with children without any input from humans”.