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Robots get emotional

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August 9, 2010

Dr Canamero with a sad robot

Dr Canamero with a sad robot

In November 2008, we reported on the FEELIX GROWING (Feel, Interact, eXpress: a Global approach to development with Interdisciplinary Grounding) project’s aim of developing robots that are capable of identifying different emotions based on facial expressions. Now, that same project has announced the completion of its first prototype robots that are not only capable of developing their own emotions as they interact with their human caregivers, but they can also express those emotions.

The robots, created by an interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Lola Cañamero at the University of Hertfordshire, and in collaboration with a consortium of universities and robotic companies across Europe, differ from others in the way that they form attachments, interact and express emotion through bodily expression.

They have been developed so that they learn to interact with and respond to humans in a similar way as children learn to do it, and use the same types of expressive and behavioral cues that babies use to learn to interact socially and emotionally with others.

Robots modeled on chimp and human infants

The robots have been created through modeling the early attachment process that human and chimpanzee infants undergo with their caregivers when they develop a preference for a primary caregiver.

They are programmed to learn to adapt to the actions and mood of their human caregivers, and to become particularly attached to an individual who interacts with the robot in a way that is particularly suited to its personality profile and learning needs. The more they interact, and are given the appropriate feedback and level of engagement from the human caregiver, the stronger the bond developed and the amount learned.

Robots express themselves

The robots are capable of expressing anger, fear, sadness, happiness, excitement and pride and will demonstrate very visible distress if the caregiver fails to provide them comfort when confronted by a stressful situation that they cannot cope with or to interact with them when they need it.

"This behavior is modeled on what a young child does," said Dr Cañamero. “This is also very similar to the way chimpanzees and other non-human primates develop affective bonds with their caregivers.”

The robots’ creators say that this is the first time that early attachment models of human and non-human primates have been used to program robots that develop emotions in interaction with humans.

“We are working on non-verbal cues and the emotions are revealed through physical postures, gestures and movements of the body rather than facial or verbal expression,” Dr Cañamero added.

The FEELIX GROWING researchers are now extending the prototype further and adapting it as part of the EU project ALIZ-E, which will develop robots that learn to be carer/companion for diabetic children in hospital settings. The future robot companions will combine non-linguistic and linguistic communication to interact with the children and become increasingly adapted to their individual profiles in order to support both, therapeutic aspects of their treatment and their social and emotional well-being.

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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