If you head out for the evening in Maastricht, you could get a taste of the future first-hand. There’s a restaurant there where robots will interact with you and serve your food. This restaurant is part of Professor Dominik Mahr’s research into the human side of digitalisation. Dominik and his colleagues from the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) look at how people interact with these robots and their emotional reactions to them. They’re not only evaluating service robots such as those in restaurants, but also social robots that could provide a much-needed hug or help in alleviating loneliness. A vital part of this research is analysing both the positive and negative sides of this technology and considering it from an ethical standpoint.
In 2010, when Dominik decided to join the SBE, the benefits were clear. Excellent education and excellent research were his top priorities, and Maastricht University ticked both of these boxes. The problem-based learning approach used to teach students echoed that of industry where small groups get together and brainstorm solutions. He was excited by how the idea fits with real world needs, “We are educating managers and team players of the future. Managers have to bring people together. And that’s what really made SBE very attractive.”
Dominik also recognised that Maastricht University could provide him with novel research opportunities as it was a young, vibrant place where change was welcomed. A testament to its dynamic, flexible environment is the fact that his work has evolved over time, and now his research encompasses social robots, augmented reality, and voice assistants—all of which will no doubt feature very prominently in our future lives.
His research has also seen him working with the Dutch Navy and large national and international corporations. He says, “Most of my work is not so much fundamental, theoretical driven; it’s mostly driven by real-world challenges.” He enjoys exploring problems and having the freedom to think differently.
In addition to being Professor of Digital Innovation and Marketing, Dominik is also the head of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management and the Scientific Director of the Service Science Factory, a place that brings practice and academia together around service innovation. He explains that what makes the SBE very special is the interdisciplinary approach of business and economics groups working together. Interdisciplinarity is key to address the big societal challenges in digitalisation, globalisation and sustainability that are at the heart of SBE’s research and education.
Dominik values being in a leadership position at a university committed to diversity and inclusion that also benefits from a strong international community. Maastricht University is located in the heart of Europe and has a global reach. There are 12 different nationalities in Dominik’s department of more than 60 people. He notes that English is widely spoken around the university, so it’s not necessary to be fluent in Dutch. In fact, Dominik himself is German.
Dominik appreciates working in a department with a small management team. He explains that there is very strong commitment of the members of the management team and trust in each other to do a good job. In order to make sure the leadership within the department and beyond is evolving over time, the members of the management team rotate positions every few years. The flat hierarchy in the university means that people feel empowered and that their voice matters. There is a collaborative environment both within the university and with external companies. All of this helps with the vital task of preparing students for the outside world.
In Dominik’s opinion, the university has the best of both worlds. He likes that Maastricht is a small city, and even though the university is city-based, it still has a campus feel to it. There are lots of places, like the Tapijnkazerne (a new expansion of the university campus), where it’s possible to meet with colleagues, socialise with friends or just go for a walk. There is also a supportive atmosphere and a willingness to help each other, especially when people are starting out. He says that anytime he’s reached out, “I’ve never experienced that somebody says she doesn’t want to or he doesn’t want to help me.” Maastricht University is a place where people can come together and form new and meaningful connections.
Dominik is a Professor of Digital Innovation and Marketing at the School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University. His work integrates research, education and business practice of marketing, innovation, digitisation, strategy, services and design thinking.