Ideas for Life – Culture

Medikidz Heroes © Medikidz

How can art, comics, texts and games change lives?

At UK universities, psychologists, therapists and artists are joining together in innovative projects that help people come to terms with issues facing them and society today.

From friendly robot companions for children in hospitals to an app that turns your texts into a movie of your life, Ideas for Life has selected some of the best cultural projects.

My robot friend

For children in hospital, being away from friends, family and the world outside the ward is often boring and frustrating. They can feel isolated from ‘normal’ life.

This is why Plymouth University’s ‘friendly’ robots could be life changing.

Plymouth University
Picture: Plymouth University

The ALIZ-E and BABEL projects with the university are looking at ways that robots and computers can support children undergoing medical treatment.

ALIZ-E, which involves eight universities and institutions across Europe, is aiming to create internet-linked robots with enhanced ‘cognitive’ abilities to act as companions.

The researchers say their robots will forge ‘longer-term constructive bonds’ and ‘believable, in-depth social relationships’ with their young users.

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The robots will also be able to help children rehabilitate after treatment.

The BABEL project supports ALIZ-E and other initiatives with research into brain-inspired robot control systems and ‘robot psychology’ based around a human-like robot called the iCub.

Tales of our texts

“CU 20min outside theatre” – “Just coming home – exhausting day” – “OMG guess what I just saw!”

Want to know what happens next?

The Text Me project at Royal Holloway, University of London is aiming to – quite literally – tap into the stories hidden in our day-to-day lives by inviting mobile phone users to submit their texts to inspire animated films.

Royal Holloway University
Picture: Royal Holloway University of London

Using the Text Me app, participants will be able to send in a text that marked the start or end of a personal drama or major event in their lives – such as the break-up of a relationship or an application for their dream job.

Users will eventually be able to synch their text with a website, which will launch later this year.

Researchers are developing the site based on ‘story-starter’ texts sent in by members of the public via Twitter @TextMeProject and it will feature editing software that allows users to create a film made from their text message or string of texts and design their own graphics, images and soundtracks.

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Victoria Mapplebeck from the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, who is leading the programme, said: ‘Memories both good and bad are often triggered by a text message hidden in our mobile phones. 

‘The phone in our pocket has become a portable personal archive that holds stories, secrets and clues about who we are.’

Superheroes teach superhuman strength

Medikidz/Teesside UniversityOne set of comic book superheroes is truly saving the day for children and families as part of a project at Teesside University.

Working with the London firm Medikidz, academics have made comics that use Marvel inspired superheroes to put medical information into plain words that children can understand.

The comics are designed to help children deal with seeing loved ones who are suffering and provide a focus for their feelings, according to lead researcher Professor Denis Martin.

He said: ‘The idea for the comic came about as we were talking to older people to find out their ideas on how to improve the lives of people living with chronic pain.

'We learned that there was a need to help grandchildren to better understand the experiences of a grandparent living with chronic pain.’

If you want to study in the UK, click here to find out about courses at UK universities.

For shorter, technical, specialist or academic courses at colleges in the UK, click here.

Visit Discover, Create, Innovate for more examples of UK research.

Universities UK logoIdeas for Life were part of Universities Week run by Universities UK in partnership with Research Councils UK, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement and universities, research centres and public bodies across the UK. Find out more here.