The world’s first robot to be able to display and detect emotions has been unveiled by European scientists. Nao has been designed to mimic the emotional skills of a one-year-old child and is capable of forming bonds with people who treat it kindly.
The robot has been developed to use the same types of expressive and behavioural cues that babies use to learn to interact socially and emotionally with others.
Nao is able to detect human emotions through a series of non-verbal “clues”, such as body-language and facial expressions, and becomes more adept at reading a person’s mood through prolonged interaction.
The wiring of the robot’s “brain”, designed to mirror the neural network of the human mind, allows it to remember its interactions with different people and memorise their faces. It uses video cameras to detect how close a person comes and sensors to work out how tactile they are.
This understanding, along with a set of basic rules about what is “good” and “bad” for it, allow the robot to indicate whether it is “sad” or “happy”. The actions used to display each emotion are preprogrammed but Nao decides by itself which feeling to display, and when.
Nao was developed as part of a European project called Feelix Growing, that is being led by Lola Canamero, a computer scientist at the University of Hertfordshire.
‘This behaviour is modelled 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.’
Chimpanzees, which provided much of the data for the emotional responses Cañamero used in her work, have already benefited from some of the work that has gone into programming emotional robots.
“Lots of them live in sanctuaries and research institutes and they’re miserable,” said Cañamero. “They’re living in enclosures and they behave in non-natural ways. They enjoy interacting with robots.”
“One of our colleagues put a robot outside the enclosures and the chimpanzees went to fetch their friends to look, and they got excited and motivated to move around,” she added.
Nao is programmed to become particularly attached to an individual who interacts with the robot in a certain way that helps it to learn. It is capable of expressing anger, fear, sadness, happiness, excitement and pride and will get upset if the human fails to comfort it or when confronted by a stressful situation that they cannot cope with.
Its ‘brain’ lets it remember good or bad experiences from the past. ‘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 said.
Cañamero believes that robots will act as human companions in future. “Those responses make a huge difference for people to be able to interact naturally with a robot,” said Cañamero. If people can behave naturally around their robot companions, robots will be better-accepted as they become more common in our lives, she said.