"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Robots designed to develop emotions through relationships

Aug. 10, 2010
Courtesy of the University of Hertfordshire
and World Science staff

Re­search­ers have de­vel­oped pro­to­type ro­bots de­signed to de­vel­op emo­tions by in­ter­act­ing with hu­man care­givers.

Their de­vel­opment "is mod­elled on what a young child does," said Lo­la Ca­ña­me­ro at the Uni­vers­ity of Hert­ford­shire, U.K., lead­er of the Eu­ro­pe­an Commission-funded proj­ect. “This is al­so very si­m­i­lar to the way chim­panzees and oth­er non-hu­man pri­ma­tes de­vel­op af­fec­tive bonds with their care­givers.”

A "sad" ro­bot with re­search­er Lo­la Ca­ña­me­ro. (Cour­te­sy U. Hert­ford­shire)

The proj­ect, in col­la­bora­t­ion with a con­sor­ti­um of uni­vers­i­ties and ro­botic com­pa­nies across Eu­rope, is dubbed FEEL­IX GROW­ING (Feel, In­ter­act, eX­press: a Glob­al ap­proach to de­vel­opment with In­ter­dis­ci­sciplinary Ground­ing).

The me­tal­lic com­pan­ions are sup­posed to in­ter­act with and re­spond to hu­mans much as chil­dren learn to do it, and use the same types of ex­pres­sive and be­havioral cues that ba­bies use.

The machines were cre­at­ed by mim­ick­ing the early at­tach­ment pro­cess that hu­man and chim­pan­zee in­fants un­dergo with their care­givers when they de­vel­op a pref­er­ence for a pri­ma­ry care­giver.

They’re pro­grammed to learn to adapt to the ac­tions and mood of their hu­man care­givers, and to be­come par­tic­u­larly at­tached to some­one who in­ter­acts with the ro­bot in a way that well suits its “per­sonal­ity pro­file” and learn­ing needs. 

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, Cañamero ex­plained.

The ro­bots, mem­bers of her group said, can ex­press an­ger, fear, sad­ness, hap­pi­ness, ex­cite­ment and pride. The machines will show “vis­i­ble dis­tress,” they added, if the care­giver fails to pro­vide them com­fort when faced with a stress­ful situa­t­ion they can’t cope with, or to in­ter­act with them when they need it.

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Researchers have developed prototype robots designed to develop emotions by interacting with human caregivers. Their development "is modelled on what a young child does," said Lola Cañamero at the University of Hertfordshire, U.K., leader of the European Commission-funded project. “This is also very similar to the way chimpanzees and other non-human primates develop affective bonds with their caregivers.” The project, in collaboration with a consortium of universities and robotic companies across Europe, is dubbed FEELIX GROWING (Feel, Interact, eXpress: a Global approach to development with Interdisciplinary Grounding). The metallic companions are supposed to interact with and respond to humans much as children learn to do it, and use the same types of expressive and behavioural cues that babies use. The machines were created by mimicking the early attachment process that human and chimpanzee infants undergo with their caregivers when they develop a preference for a primary caregiver. They’re programmed to learn to adapt to the actions and mood of their human caregivers, and to become particularly attached to someone who interacts with the robot in a way that well suits its “personality profile” and learning needs. 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, Cañamero explained. The robots, members of her group said, can express anger, fear, sadness, happiness, excitement and pride. The machines will show “visible distress,” they added, if the caregiver fails to provide them comfort when faced with a stressful situation they can’t cope with, or to interact with them when they need it.