Emotional robots in the spotlight

July 17, 2008
Emotional robots in the spotlight
Are you feeling okay today? Photo: EPFL

(PhysOrg.com) -- A robot with empathy sounds like the stuff of sci-fi movies, but with the aid of neural networks European researchers are developing robots in tune with our emotions. The tantalising work of the Feelix Growing project is grabbing the world’s attention.

Feelix Growing is developing software empowering robots that can learn when a person is sad, happy or angry.

The learning part is achieved through the use of artificial neural networks, which are well suited to the varied and changing inputs that ‘perceptive’ robots would be exposed to.

Using cameras and sensors, the very simple robots being built by the researchers – using mostly off-the-shelf parts – can detect different parameters, such as a person's facial expressions, voice, and proximity to determine emotional state.

The technology pulls together research in robotics, adaptive systems, developmental and comparative psychology, neuroscience and ethology, which is all about human behaviour.

Are you feeling ok?

Much like a human child, the robot learns from experience how to respond to emotions displayed by people around it.

If someone shows fear or cries out in pain, the robot may learn to change its behaviour to appear less threatening, backing away if necessary. If someone cries out in happiness, it may even detect the difference, and one day fine-tune its responses to individuals.

“It's mostly behavioural and contact feedback,” project coordinator Dr Lola Canamero is quoted as saying in a BBC News story on Feelix Growing. “Tactile feedback and emotional feedback through positive reinforcement, such as kind words, nice behaviour or helping the robot do something if it is stuck,” she said.

Maternal instinct

The three-year, Sixth Framework Programme project involves six countries and 25 specialists who are building demonstration robots as proof of concept.

One demo follows the researchers around like a young bear cub might its mother, learning from experience when to trail behind or stick close to her. A robot face is also in development which can express different 'emotions'.

The main idea is, by being more in tune with human emotions, giving the impression of empathy, the robots should be more readily accepted by the people they may one day serve.

Not exactly I Robot

Robots that can adapt to people's behaviours are needed if machines are to play a part in society, such as helping the sick, the elderly, people with autism or house-bound people, working as domestic helpers, or just for entertainment, according to Canamero.

The work is still well shy of an I Robot scenario with emotionally complex machines taking matters into their own hands, but the empathy empowering software being developed by Feelix Growing is a big step forward for robotics.

And gauging by the attention the project has garnered in leading press, such as the BBC, Wired and engadget, and most recently in a report on Euronews, Feelix Growing is maturing very well.

Provided by ICT Results

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2.4 / 5 (8) Jul 17, 2008
Waste of time...

Robots are tools, not emotional cuddle toys...
The personification of robotics leads only to deception.

People should learn to accept robots as robots, there should be no need to make them look/act more human in order for people to feel comfortable with them.

If people are uncomfortable with robots, trying to make them more human will just worsen that experience.
1 / 5 (4) Jul 17, 2008
I'll amplify on ShadowRam's comment. If a human being, or even an animal signals that they are in pain or distress, I will respond because I have a social contract with them, especially with other mammals. A robot claiming it is in pain means nothing to me. In fact, I resent it lying. And for some robot -- where I cannot determine what it is -- say, they are out of my line of sight -- to claim it is in pain, and divert my attention from a human who is in pain, say in fire...that goes beyond resentment. That is a serious crime. We have enough trouble understanding normal people's emotions without confusing the issue with robots who are feigning.
3.6 / 5 (5) Jul 17, 2008
I think we should make robots look as far as possible from that hideous picture at the top of the page. I never want to see a robot look like that again. Also, to heck with giving robots fake emotions. This is a weak attempt at copying something we dont even understand.
2 / 5 (4) Jul 17, 2008
5 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2008
Hi, I'm Chucky. Wanna play?
not rated yet Jul 18, 2008
This is amazing.. life will be much different in the comming decades.
not rated yet Jul 18, 2008
Yes! Mankind will invent new devices such as computers with spellchecking! hahahaha!

Cheers, Seffo
not rated yet Jul 19, 2008
I can understand discomfort with a robot that fakes human emotion, but from my reading of the article, it seems the researchers are much more interested in developing a robot that *responds* to it - which could have all kinds of useful and practical applications...
not rated yet Jul 20, 2008
The Robot looks ridiculous but the scientific research goes more than skin deep to undersand the digitization of emotions. The buddist performs mediations to understand a deeper empathy so this is the western culture attempt to understand it. The implication would be to improve following a greater understanding. I do not fear this and support extensively.
not rated yet Jul 20, 2008
"A robot claiming it is in pain means nothing to me"

It's unfortunate and perhaps inevitably tragic that your empathy is limited to meat. These robots are unlikely to truly be emotional, the poor exaggerated responses make that evident, but don't be presumptuous about the mental processes of future AI based on current mal-achievement.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 21, 2008
And until true artificial brains are created robots will always be *just* robots, no matter what pseudo-human software kluges are applied.

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