Researchers find social robots require astute tuning to improve acceptability by the human mind

Feb 03, 2012

After years of existing only in fiction, social robots are finally being designed that can more closely emulate how people express themselves, interact and learn – and doing so while performing jobs like teaching social behavior to children with autism or helping stroke patients with their physical rehabilitation exercises.

But what does it take to make a social and engaging? Should it walk and talk just like a person? Should it be emotionally expressive and responsive? Does the personality of the robot matter? What's needed to get a robot and a human to work well together?

According to Professor Maja Matarić, University of Southern California and director of USC's Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems, while there are many challenges ahead, one of the biggest remains getting the robots to match the needs and expectations of the human mind. "How we interact with embodied machines is different than how we interact with a computer, cell phone or other intelligent devices," says "We need to understand those differences so we can leverage what is important."

Matarić has developed social robots for use in a variety of therapeutic roles. According to Matarić, one of the keys for a successfully designed social robot is considering not only how it communications verbally, but physically through facial expressions and body language. Also important: embedding the right personality. "We found that when we matched the personality of the robot to that of the user, people performed their rehab exercises longer and reported enjoying them more."

Another key is matching a robot's appearance to our perception of its abilities. Ayse Saygin is an assistant professor at the University of California San Diego and faculty member of the Kavli Institute of Brain and Mind. Last year, Saygin and her colleagues set out to discover if what they call the "action perception system" in the human brain is tuned more to human appearance or human motion. By using brain scans, they found that as people observed highly humanlike robots compared to less humanlike robots, the brain detected the mismatch and didn't respond as well. "Making robots more humanlike might seem intuitively like that's the way to go, but we find it doesn't work unless the humanlike appearance is equally matched with humanlike actions."

A social robot also needs the ability to learn socially. Andrea Thomaz is an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of its Social Intelligent Machines Laboratory. At her lab, they have built a robot designed to learn from humans the way a person would -- along with speech, through observation, demonstration and social interaction. "In my lab, we see human social intelligence as being comprised of four key components – the ability to learn from other people, the ability to collaborate with other people, the ability to apply emotional intelligence, and the ability to perceive and respond to another person's intentions. We try to build this social intelligence in our robots."

Explore further: A robot dives into search for Malaysian Airlines flight

More information: Read the complete story at: www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/ucsd-recipe-social-robot

Provided by The Kavli Foundation

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Your brain on androids

Jul 14, 2011

Ever get the heebie-jeebies at a wax museum? Feel uneasy with an anthropomorphic robot? What about playing a video game or watching an animated movie, where the human characters are pretty realistic but just ...

Teaching robots to move like humans (w/ Video)

Mar 07, 2011

When people communicate, the way they move has as much to do with what they're saying as the words that come out of their mouths. But what about when robots communicate with people? How can robots use non-verbal ...

Robots to help children to form relationships

May 29, 2007

A project which is using robots to help children with developmental or cognitive impairments to interact more effectively has just started at the University of Hertfordshire.

Robots rule in engineering lab

Sep 28, 2010

"If I did not have a handsome face and two arms ... you would probably not be as inclined to interact with me," Brian the robot tells visitors to Professor Goldie Nejat's autonomous systems and biomechatronics lab.

Recommended for you

A robot dives into search for Malaysian Airlines flight

Apr 18, 2014

In the hunt for signs of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370—which disappeared on March 8 after deviating for unknown reasons from its scheduled flight path—all eyes today turn to a company that got its start ...

Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

Apr 16, 2014

A way of making hundreds—or even thousands—of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Students turn $250 wheelchair into geo-positioning robot

Apr 16, 2014

Talk about your Craigslist finds! A team of student employees at The University of Alabama in Huntsville's Systems Management and Production Center (SMAP) combined inspiration with innovation to make a $250 ...

Using robots to study evolution

Apr 14, 2014

A new paper by OIST's Neural Computation Unit has demonstrated the usefulness of robots in studying evolution. Published in PLOS ONE, Stefan Elfwing, a researcher in Professor Kenji Doya's Unit, has succes ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...