Claiming that service-class robots will one day be pervasive, researchers at the University of the West of England’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) have begun investigating ways to make robots seem more human.
Just as PCs are now common in households, workplaces, and parts of our environment, BRL expects “service-class” robotic devices to become “a pervasive element of our future society.” This will represent a “huge opportunity for life enhancement and commercial exploitation,” the lab adds.
Typical occupations for tomorrow’s robotic underlings are expected to include:
- Aids for the elderly
- Domestic servants
- Tour guides
- Hotel porters
- Non beer-drinking “assistants” on construction sites
- Leisure/gaming robots
- Numerous military roles
- “…and so on”
Since service-class robots will occupy environments that contain people, there’s a fundamental need for them to interact in an easy and natural manner with their human companions, BRL notes.
Making robots more personable
In light of the emerging need for humans and robots to interact comfortably, BRL is investigating several technologies believed to be crucial to successful human/robot relationships. These include ways for service-class robots to show “emotion,” using both verbal and non-verbal cues.
“The aim is to generate facial behavior in a humanoid robot head, so that if a person speaks to the robot, the person would feel listened to in a sympathetic way,” explains BRL.
“This will require ‘theory of mind’ models as well as dynamic emotional models,” adds the Lab. “Our particular interest is in how, and to what extent one can achieve the illusion of psychological attending and understanding even though it lacks ‘true’ intelligence. We aim to find new approaches towards enhancing human-likeness by generating genuine, non-repetitive facial behaviour that conveys a certain underlying emotional state.”
Videos of BRL’s prototype empathetic robotic head
How’s that research going? Below are a pair of videos that showcase BRL’s current prototype of an “empathetic” humanoid robotic head. Enjoy!
BRL’s robotic head contemplates its purpose
(Click image to play video)
Some of the technology behind BRL’s empathetic robotic
(Click image to play video)
[Notes: the second video currently appears to have a problem with its audio track; a high-resolution version of the first video is available for download here (48MB avi file).]
That first video is a bit creepy, eh?
For further information on this research, visit the Bristol Robotics Laboratory website.
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