Scientists build a robot that can learn emotions

Robot that can show happiness, sadness and fear could some day be a caregiver for children

Lead researcher Lola Cañamero interacts with a robot
Lead researcher Lola Cañamero interacts with a robot that can respond to human emotions. (Photo courtesy of University of Hertfordshire)

Researchers in the U.K. are working on a robot that will develop emotions as it interacts with people.

Scientists at the University of Hertfordshire announced this week that they have finalized a prototype of a robot capable of learning how to express emotions. According to the university, the robot is designed to form attachments, interact with people and show emotions through bodily expressions.

So far, the robot's range of emotions include happiness, sadness, fear, excitement and pride.

"This behavior is modeled on what a young child does," said Lola Cañamero, lead researcher on the project. "This is also very similar to the way chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates develop effective bonds with their caregivers."

According to the university, the robots are designed to learn how to respond to humans by feeding off of facial expressions and other social cues, much like young children learn to interact socially.

There has been increasing discussion of robotic companions hitting the market in the not-so-distant future.

A New Jersey-based company, TrueCompanion.com, announced early this year that it was taking the wraps off its talking robotic girlfriend. Roxxxy the robot is no inanimate doll. It's designed with artificial intelligence and the ability to carry on a conversation.

These kinds of robotic advances won't come as a shock to David Levy, a British artificial intelligence researcher, who nearly three years ago predicted that robotics were about to begin making such dramatic advances that humans would be marrying robots by the year 2050.

Robots, Levy said, will lose their industrial look and jerky movements to become humanlike machines that people use as aids, consider friends, fall in love with and even take as spouses.

In the work being done today on the robots with emotions, the robots not only learn to adapt to the moods and actions of their human companions, but they also are able to form attachments to particular people. "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," the university noted.

Researchers are hoping that the robots can one day become companions and caregivers for sick children.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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