November 21, 2008 Researchers estimate that body language makes up between 50-80% of communication, which means robots aren’t ready to become caregivers and companions until they get a good handle on nonverbal expression. A €2.5 million EU-funded project is aiming to develop robots that are capable of identifying different emotions based on facial expressions. Prototypes from the FEELIX GROWING project will be exhibited at ICT 2008, from November 25-27.

FEELIX GROWING stands for FEEL, Interact, eXpress: a Global appRoach to develOpment With INterdisciplinary Grounding, (dodgy acronym we know). The project is funded by the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission and aims to create robots that emotionally interact with, and learn from, human companions. The ICT exhibition will feature live demonstrations of human/robot interaction, including a “baby” robot exploring its environment with help from a human, robotic heads that display appropriate facial responses to emotionally different human faces and voices, and robots that imitate human action. There will also be video of robots interacting with chimpanzees.

The robots possess artificial neural networks and a sophisticated array of cameras and sensors. In theory, this could allow a robot to monitor the emotional status of its human companions, and tailor its behavior accordingly. Depending on what responses it has received from different people in the past, it could take unique approaches to individuals, in an effort to minimize fear or discomfort. As well as being better suited to tasks where monitoring the well-being of humans is pivotal (for example, babysitting or nursing), the emotion-savvy robots could also be more easily accepted by people in general.

“The aim is to develop robots that grow up and adapt to humans in everyday environments,” said Dr Lola Cañamero, project co-ordinator from the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Computer Science. “If robots are to be truly integrated in humans’ everyday lives as companions or carers, they cannot be just taken off the shelf and put into a real-life setting, they need to live and grow interacting with humans, to adapt to their environment.”

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