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Developing long-term relationships with robots

Scientists at the University of Hertfordshire are taking part in an international project led by Queen Mary, University of London, set to advance the relationship between robots and humans as part of new European project called LIREC - Living with Robots and Interactive Companions.

LIREC aims to create a new generation of interactive, emotionally intelligent, companion technology, that is capable of long-term engagement with humans – in both a virtual (graphical) world, and in the real-world (as robots).

The project will also be the first in the world to examine how we react to a familiar companion entity when it swaps from a robot body into a virtual form, for example on a computer screen or your PDA.

The University of Hertfordshire team is working with a consortium of nine other internationally leading European partners, who intend to develop and study a variety of robots and other autonomous interactive companions during the four-year project.

The project coordinator, Professor Peter McOwan, from Queen Mary’s Department of Computer Science, explained: “We’re interested in how people can develop a long-term relationship with artificial creatures, in everyday settings. You may not be able to find a robot that can help you do the dishes anytime soon, but we’re hoping to explore how such friendly future technology could be developed, and start to predict what the intelligent machines of tomorrow might look like, and how we should treat them.”

The Hertfordshire team, which took the robot out of the laboratory and had it living in a house nearby, will investigate specifically how people can interact with robots of different appearances and behaviour, and how a robotic ‘mind’ can migrate to other robots or computer devices.

Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn, The Principal Investigator at the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Computer Science, said: “In addition to advancing the technology of robotic companions in LIREC, our team will also take a critical perspective and address ethical and psychological issues regarding companions.

“This is essential in an area where people may bond and actually develop relationships with machines which are not able to reciprocate this emotion in a meaningful and deep way. Humans, dogs, and other creatures have authentic emotions. Regardless of how the robot looks or behaves, we must not confuse machines and people. We want to avoid a situation where a person deeply bonds with a robot, but the robot simply doesn’t care.”

The £6.5m grant involves partners from seven countries and will run for four and a half years. The project will begin on 17/18 April when the research partners convene for the first time.

Helene Murphy | alfa
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