Teaching Robots To Love
February 10, 2014

Teaching Robots To Love

Ever since I was little and watched the original VHS tapes of Star Wars, I have always wanted a little robot buddy. What kid didn’t? R2-D2 was awesome. Sure, you could not understand what he was saying (and I still stand by it swearing so much they just had to “bleep” out everything he said), but that little robot was still really endearing. It was funny, energetic, smart, dependable, and so much more. Later, when the prequels came out, I remember the one thing I actually did like about them (heresy, I know) was that R2-D2 was really the only character who was aware of everything that happened. Why it didn’t tell anyone about the many things that could have potentially helped them along the way… well, I will just blame that one on poor storytelling. Still, R2-D2 was for me, and I am sure for many other kids of my generation and the generations following, that little robot friend we all wish we could have had.

Well, we might not be getting our own R2-D2s, but the next best thing might be just around the corner.

Enter ERWIN, the Emotional Robot with Intelligence Network. It might look all sorts of creepy, but this little thing is being used in a study to try and understand the potential of human-robot relationships. Created by Dr. John Murray of the School of Computer Science, University of Lincoln, UK, ERWIN is unique in that it is capable of expressing five different emotions when interacting with humans. It is hoped that through this research, scientists will develop a better understanding of the relationships people are able to form with robotic companions, as well as relationships formed by children with autism, Asperger syndrome, or attachment disorder. Along with Keepon, (another robot also being used in the study to compare to ERWIN), ERWIN is being documented as it interacts with humans, and they are testing what sort of connections are being made with the machine. Sure, this might seem strange now, but robots are seeing much more use in today’s world. We have robot jellyfish, robot firefighters and deliverymen, robot medical assistants, and more. The more robots interact with us, the more they will need to be able to develop rapports with us. Understanding how this can happen is crucial in furthering present limitations on connectivity between humans and machines. Presently, it is a robot’s lack of any emotion that most severely limits human interaction, but that may soon change depending on the results of ERWIN. Presently, ERWIN is very emotionally simple. Again, it is only able to show five basic emotional responses, but this is why it is proving very helpful when interacting with children who have developmental disorders. Its emotional simplicity helps these children better understand ERWIN, which then makes it easier for them to develop attachments to it.

Personally, I find the thing to be very creepy looking. See it for yourself here.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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