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More realistic pet robots that recognize and respond to human emotions

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September 19, 2010

The next generation of robotic pets may detect a person's emotions and respond accordingly...

The next generation of robotic pets may detect a person's emotions and respond accordingly (Image: Iburiedpaul via Flickr)

Sony’s Aibo may be discontinued, but robotic pets of all shapes and sizes continue to stake a claim in the hearts of people around the world. Despite the apparent intelligence of some of these robot pets, their behavior and actions are usually nothing more than pre-programmed responses to stimuli – being patted in a particular location or responding to a voice command, for example. Real flesh and blood pets are much more complex in this regard, even discerning and responding to a person’s emotional state. Robotic pets could be headed in that direction, with researchers in Taiwan turning to neural networks to help them break the cycle of repetitive behavior in robot toys and endow them with almost emotional responses to interactions.

Building fully autonomous artificial creatures with intelligence akin to humans is a very long-term goal of robot design and computer science. On the way to such machines, home entertainment and utility devices such as "Tamagotchi" digital pets and domestic toy robots such as Aibo, the robotic dog and even the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, have been developed. At the same time, popular science fiction culture has raised consumer expectations.

In an effort to provide entertaining and realistic gadgets that respond to human interaction in ever more nuanced ways, mimicking the behavior of real pet animals or even people, researchers in Taiwan are now looking at a new design paradigm that could see the development of a robot vision module that might one-day recognize human facial expressions and respond appropriately.

"With current technologies in computing and electronics and knowledge in ethology, neuroscience and cognition, it is now possible to create embodied prototypes of artificial living toys acting in the physical world," Wei-Po Lee and colleagues at the National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), Kaohsiung, explain.

There are three major issues to be considered in robot design, the team explains. The first is to construct an appropriate control architecture by which the robot can behave coherently. The second is to develop natural ways for the robot to interact with a person. The third is to embed emotional responses and behavior into the robot's computer.

The researchers hope to address all three issues by adopting an approach to behavior-based architecture - using a neural network - that could allow the owner of a robot pet to reconfigure the device to "learn", or evolve new behavior and at the same time ensure that the robot pet functions properly in real time.

The team has evaluated their framework by building robot controllers to achieve various tasks successfully. They, and other research teams across the globe, are currently working on vision modules for robots. The technique is not yet fully mature, but ultimately they hope to be able to build a robot pet that could recognize its owner's facial expressions and perhaps respond accordingly. Such a development has major implications for a range of interactive devices, computers and functional robots of the future.

The team from Taiwan’s NSYSU explain their approach in the current issue of the International Journal of Modelling, Identification and Control.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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4 Comments

Would be nice to see these as biofeedback devices for people with mental illness.

Billy Robb
20th September, 2010 @ 08:42 am PDT

Can your pet respond to your facial expressions? More likely to the tone of your voice. Why not just let the 'pet' respond in a random way? That would make it interesting.

windykites1
20th September, 2010 @ 11:23 am PDT

This can only be acheived by equiping the robot with a reward processor. If they don't put strict controlls on what should be rewarded and encouraged the robot will see the human as something to remove as causing a negative impact on reward.

Giving something life like responses but limiting the range to only safe responses will always leave anyone interacting with one clearly knowing that it is a machine.

Foxy1968
20th September, 2010 @ 06:13 pm PDT

These things make me want to slash my wrists....

Get out and about and GET A LIFE people....

By a bicycle.... go meet people, join a USEFUL group.... create something.

In a world drowning in opportunities, THESE SELF OBSESSED LOSERS, all they can do is sit there and whine, "Poor me".... I am maladjusted... no one loves me etc...

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr KICK THEM.

Mr Stiffy
20th September, 2010 @ 08:32 pm PDT
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