The HRI 2021 Student Design Competition (short: SDC) is a friendly international competition, open to small teams (or even just you!) of high-school and university-level students: invent and design an interactive robot, and present it in front of an international audience of researchers, during the HRI 2021 Conference, that will be held online, in March 2021.

We invite students from all nationalities & all backgrounds to join the challenge, whether you are working and studying in technical, art/design, or social science disciplines.





Important Dates



10 December 2020 (23:59 PDT): Submission Deadline
8 January 2021: Acceptance Notification
18 January 2021: Camera-ready Deadline

Closer to the conference, we will ask you to submit your presentation material: a video showcasing your project and design process, and, optionally, an additional interactive presentation of the robot that you created. Additional details on these submissions will be provided to you after acceptance of your project. However, do not forget to document and (video-)record your design process from the very start!

The Design Challenge and Context

Acknowledging the very special circumstances caused by COVID-19, and building upon the conference theme of Bolder Human-Robot Interaction, this year’s student design competition theme is “A Robot to Support Us Through Lockdown”: it is up to you to interpret this theme your way! (and feel free to go a bit beyond it if you already have a clear idea in mind!)


Some examples could be:

  • A robot that facilitates staying in touch with your loved ones
  • A robot comforting you at home with its calming sounds or smells
  • A robot dancing with you when you feel down
  • A robot that you send down the street to carry messages for your self-isolating neighbours
  • A robot that helps managing family dynamics


But of course, these are only examples! We expect you to come up with your own, crazy & creative ideas!

We encourage participants to focus on the actual process of creating a robot, including what the robot would bring to us; what are the ideas and principles behind it; how the robot is built, how it feels (textures, materials, shape, colours, sounds…), how it ‘exists’ in our environment (its place, role, interactions with other objects or places), and, of course, how it interacts with its human companions. For this, feel free to focus on particular interaction situations, and create scenarios that illustrate how the robot fits within the lives of the humans involved.


How to create your robot?

We imagine participants using recycled materials (cereal card boxes, straws, clothes…), or sourcing small products from your local stores (including IKEA or MUJI), hacking toys, or using everyday objects from their homes or labs, then actuating them using purchased or homemade hardware and software (perhaps using open-source tools) to add movement, visual indicators, or sound, so the robot can express itself and/or communicate its use or purpose. Don’t feel limited by any of these suggestions: be creative! The competition focuses less on demonstrations of technical proficiency and more on the design process of ideas that inspire, surprise, and delight.


How to take part to SDC 2021?


Form a team (5 people max., but you can also participate as an individual) and prepare the initial submission to be submitted via the HRI website before December 10, 2020. Creating and submitting an initial submission is how student teams enter the competition and indicate that they are working on a project. Each initial submission should be a 1–2-page document, that includes the following information:


  • Project title and authors (names, school/university, and email addresses).
  • An abstract of 100 words or fewer.
  • A brief description of the design or application scenario: who will interact with the robot? Where? What kind of activities will the robot and humans do together? The description can be technical and/or behavioral. Feel free to add pictures and drawings to explain your idea.
  • A brief description of your design process: How did you generate ideas? Challenge them? Revisit them? You can include the different robot ideas/concepts you have explored (and not just the final one). You can do that by adding pictures of your ideas, making videos, including drawings, 3D models, post-its, etc.

Jury and Awards

The HRI community is very diverse, including researchers and practitioners from computer science and engineering, social science, art and design, and a goal of the competition is to recognize outstanding contributions from any of these disciplines.

We expect that there will be several awards along several categories that include interaction, design, creativity, and implementation. This year, we will be paying special attention to the design process that the teams engaged in to create a social robot.

The award-winning teams will have a social time with experts in the field of HRI. During this time, teams can ask questions, connect, and network with renowned researchers in HRI.

Competition Guidelines



Teams (or individuals) should design, build, and document their projects during the time frame prior to the HRI 2021 Conference. We strongly encourage to photograph and video record their design and development process of the robot, to include during final video presentations. 


We invite students from all stages of their university careers, from undergraduate to postgraduate, and high school students from any disciplinary focus area. While not required, we encourage multidisciplinary, even international, team membership.

Team size

Please form teams of no more than 5 members. If your team has reason to exceed this number, please check with the SDC Chairs at first. Individual applications are also welcome.



Registration for the competition itself is free, although at least 1 member of each team must register for, and attend, the HRI 2021 conference. Individual participations will need to register for the conference.


There is no limit to the number of entries per university, school, or organization. We encourage each student to focus on a single team entry, although students are permitted to join multiple teams.


We are communicating with conference organizers now, but thus far, there is no sponsorship or reimbursement available for competition costs, such as developing design prototypes, or conference registration. We will post an update to this site if funding becomes available.

Submission and Presentations

Initial Submissions: Participants should prepare an initial submission and submit it via the “paper submission and review” website (deadline: 10 December 2020). Creating and submitting an initial submission is how student teams enter the competition and indicate that they are working on a project.


Camera-Ready Submissions: Teams whose submissions are accepted should submit a 1–2-page camera-ready version, updated to reflect the team’s progress to that date, for inclusion in the ACM digital library and IEEE Xplore. The camera-ready version should follow the double-column IEEE Proceedings Template. 


Presentations: During the conference, the SDC session will be a virtual art exhibition of the robot competitions that will include:

  • Videos of the teams showing their process of making a robot. 

  • Teams are encouraged to showcase and demo their robot live during the session as the most informative and entertaining representation of their work. This will provide opportunities for the audience to better understand how their robot should be used and was envisioned to interact with people.


There will be interaction sessions during the SDC in zoom in which teams and audience will be assigned different breakout rooms to engage in discussions about the process of making their robot. This will serve to share experience with the conference audience.

Frequently Asked


What are “robots”?

We want to encourage a broad interpretation of what an interactive robot might be to each team. They could be custom-built objects or components, repurposed products or furnishings, hacked toys or appliances, or whatever teams have on-hand. We recommend letting the context, people, and interaction guide the design.


Can teams use any hardware or software on their project?

Teams may use any physical platform for their interactive robots, and should choose based on their chosen interaction context, the people involved, and the activities in which their objects will engage. To control their robots, teams may use any software platform, open or closed source, or even no software if that suits their design.


Is there any sponsorship for expenses to develop interactive everyday objects, or to attend the HRI conference?

We are trying to arrange a way to cover (or to offset) teams’ development expense, and/or attendance expense, but it is still not certain. We will post updates here as we learn more.


Can any student be a member of more than one team?

Students may join more than 1 team and teams should be constituted of maximum 5 elements. Individual submissions are also welcome.


Is there a social platform or service for finding teammates?

We do not have a platform set up to help teams form, although you’re welcome to take the initiative. Let us know, and we will post details on the website. If we receive enough interest from individuals or small teams, we may collect and send your email addresses to each other.


Can student members join or leave teams after submitting a proposal?

Individual members may be added or removed from teams up until 2 weeks prior to the conference. To make such changes, please email the Chairs at as soon as possible.


Can someone who isn’t a student participate?

 The HRI 2021 Student Design Competition is only open to students, although students at any university level (bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD) may participate.


Can other people, or advisors, help with the competition project?

 It is alright to seek external help for bugs and other issues, however, people external to the team should not contribute significantly to the project’s ideas or implementation. Advisors may advise on ideas, designs and approach, but team members should be the primary source of conceptual and execution effort in developing the project.


Can a team withdraw after submitting a proposal?

Teams are able to withdraw. In this case, please notify the Student Design Competition Chairs at at least 2 weeks prior to the conference. For team members seeking reimbursement for conference registration fees, please contact the Finance Chairs at

Student Design Competition Chairs
Patricia Alves-Oliveira (University of Washington, USA)
Séverin Lemaignan (Bristol Robotics Lab, United Kingdom)