PeerJ Award Winner: Joel Pinney – Best 3MT at the RiTA2020 Conference

PeerJ has collaborated with the 8th International Conference on Robot Intelligence Technology and Applications (RiTA 2020) to launch a PeerJ Computer Science Collection on Advances in Computational Learning for Robotics (see the Call for Papers here).

We also sponsored an award for the best Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) at the conference – won by PhD student Joel Pinney. We recently talked to Joel about what he presented at RiTA 2020, and his research interests in general.


Read Pinney et al.Human-robot interaction: The impact of robotic aesthetics on anticipated human trust“, published as part of the Computational Learning for Robotics Conference Collection, a collaboration between RiTA 2020 and PeerJ Computer Science.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

My name is Joel Pinney and I am a PhD researcher at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I received a 1st class with Honours in computer science before proceeding to my current position as a PhD researcher. I have a keen interest in the influences of aesthetic designs on a person’s decision-making process – and moreover, the influence of aesthetics whilst depicting uncertainty in data visualisations. 

What first interested you in this field of research?

Although my research is split between disciplines of human-computer interaction (HCI), data science and segments of psychology, there was an initial moment where I first became interested in this research. Whilst studying my undergraduate at Cardiff Metropolitan University, I was tasked with an assignment in analytics and business intelligence. I became fascinated with how data was utilised so profusely in the business word for strategic decision making. The concepts of Big Data and visualisations sparked interest and inclined me to want to research further. Whilst involved with my industrial partner we discussed the requirements to provide clients with the ‘full picture’ that a visualisation is depicting, and the requirement for visualisations to correctly display uncertainty became apparent. It was at this moment the multi-discipline topics of my interest were unified to a core research goal: to develop an uncertainty visualisation framework that can be used by visualisation designers to depict uncertainty aesthetically. 

You won the PeerJ Award for best 3-Minute Thesis at RiTA 2020, can you explain this competition and what you presented? 

The 3MT competition – as the name suggests – is an opportunity for PhD researchers to present their thesis research in 3 minutes. This does not come without its challenges! Three minutes is not a long time to introduce your topic, why it is needed, your proposed plans and then to conclude. I have given a few talks on my PhD over my first year of research, mostly lasting 15 minutes or longer, so this exercise allowed me to focus on the core elements of my research and to deliver a quick snapshot of it.

My presentation consisted of components of my main PhD research topic, the visualisation of uncertainty. I touched on many areas of aesthetic design, uncertainty visualisation examples and proposed hypothetical frameworks.

You also gave a full-length presentation as part of the main conference, what aspect of your research did you discuss then?

My full presentation concerned the use of aesthetic design to encourage trusting bonds with robotics. As technology advances, the introduction of robotics will become more prominent in everyday life. This research presented a possible avenue to encouraging members of the public to engage with robotics through aesthetic visual changes. The research presented was built on a recent study where participants were promoted to determine their level of trust for different robot visualisations. As the questionnaire progressed, the intensity of aesthetic manipulation enhanced. We pushed the boundaries of altering a robotics visual appearance to a stage where participants described the robot as ‘scary/concerning’, providing the research team with an understanding of how different levels of aesthetic manipulations can influence the decisions to trust. 

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

The virtual conference is a great step forwards, and is a testament to the advancements of technology. I was able to share my research with fellow attendees from around the world. Researchers who wouldn’t be able to fly to a physical conference were able to share ideas and contribute to the interesting research. The organisers at RiTA2020 performed flawlessly and produced a memorable experience that showcased the future of robotics. In the challenging situations faced in 2020, it did not hinder a truly thought-provoking conference. 

What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

As I am only just progressing into my second year of my PhD, I have many interesting studies planned. These studies aimed at furthering our understanding of how aesthetic design can influence decision making from uncertainty visualisations. These studies will combine qualitative and quantitative methods including questionnaires and interviews with professionals, as well as cognitive and affective studies. The findings from these studies will aid in the development of an uncertainty visualisation framework, which will be focused on providing visualisation designers with the necessary understanding to depict uncertainty aesthetically. 

The research I presented was just the start  of this as only a handful of aesthetic designs and one robot was utilised. The scope for advancement is immense. I hope to further work with the Eureka Robotics lab at Cardiff Metropolitan University to continue to build on this research. Since the conference, there have been talks about testing alternative robotics that are available, as well as alternative settings. This will allow the completion of important research, focusing on building trusting bonds with robotics. Additionally, talks to utilise EEG (Electroencephalography) and GSR (galvanic skin response) equipment to collect affective and cognitive data for analysis have been discussed. The rapid development of robotics could see the deployment of robotics in our everyday life. Settings such as hospitality, medical and education have shown significant interest and development. In order for the general public to accept and trust these innovative changes, we must consider ways to encourage these trusting bonds. 


The PeerJ Awards program aims to support students and early career researchers by recognising their work, as well as bringing continued awareness to the benefits that open access has in keeping science open and available to all. The winners receive a complimentary PeerJ paper (upon submission and acceptance through our peer review system) and an interview about their research.

If you are organizing a conference or workshop (either physical or virtual!) and would like to offer a PeerJ Award at your event, do get in touch –

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