Professor Johan Hoorn and his research team have won the Huibregtsen Prize 2020 for their robotics research project “Alice”, a robot girl who helps elderly people feel less lonely. He teaches at both the Department of Computing and the School of Design of the University.


After noticing that loneliness was a major problem in ageing societies, Professor Hoorn worked with Professor Elly Konijn of Vrije University Amsterdam to develop “Alice”, combining artificial intelligence with remote-controlled functions. Acting as an electromechanical grandchild, “Alice” helps to relieve loneliness and improve the quality of life of elderly people through being their companion, chatting to them and responding empathically to what they say.


The Huibregtsen Prize, which was established in 2005, is awarded annually to a research project where scientific innovation has the potential for social application. Professor Hoorn was one of six nominees for the 2020 Prize. He hopes robots like “Alice” can be used to meet a range of social challenges in healthcare, education, and services. He is currently working on another project with the AI Design Laboratory at the Hong Kong Science Park to develop social robots to help alleviate depression among young people in Hong Kong.