ALIZ-E: Giving robot companions memory to enhance the human-robot bond

[From The Information Daily; more information about the ALIZ-E project is at here]

Valentine’s Day – Time To Hug Your Favourite Robot?

On St. Valentine’s Day, we want to be close to the ones we love. Researchers from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK are testing whether one day that special person in our life could be a robot.

Source: European Commission
Published Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Experiments have shown that children, for example, can become extremely attached to a robot playmate, but can the robot in turn can develop a bond with a human being? Could we one day expect robots to develop a behaviour that resembles human attachment? That is the question being explored in the ALIZ-E project.

Emotion is central to all interactions, including the way we interact with technology. The ALIZ-E project focuses on robot-child interaction, capitalising on children’s open and imaginative responses to artificial ‘creatures,’ where children have said they want their robot-friend to help with homework, to play or even cook.

To enable such self-sustaining and constructive interactions – ones that take place between robot and human over days and weeks, rather than just a few minutes, the ALIZ-E project is looking to implement memory systems in robots. The role of memory is crucial in human social behaviour. While social relationships happen in the ‘here and now,’ they depend also on the past because our current behaviours are influenced by previous experiences of similar situations.

If successful, this research may lead to future applications, including the development of educational companion robots for young users. The next step in that journey is the ALIZ-E project taking robots out of the lab and putting them to the test with young patients in a paediatric department at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan. Researchers will explore whether the robot can engage and maintain the child’s interest during play by tailoring its own behaviour to the child’s individual use of language, speech patterns, body language and play preferences.

The EU funds research projects such the ALIZ-E robot as part of a wider effort to ensure the EU takes a leading share of the social progress and economic benefits brought about by the €15 billion a year global robotics industry.

Background

It will be hard to address many of Europe’s coming challenges without use of robotics: an energy and resource-efficient economy, enabling workers with valuable experience to keep contributing, increasing independent living for elderly people, protecting against external and internal threats to security – all require robotic assistance. Robotics innovations will help European manufacturing stay competitive against global competition.

Robotics already contributes more than €3 billion to the European economy each year, and will deliver new jobs and growth in coming years if the right investments are made today. The number of industrial robots sold annually, for example, has doubled in recent years 118,000. By 2014, it is expected that around 90,000 new robots will assume tasks in the areas of defence, security, facility management and medicine.

The European Commission has supported more than 100 robotics research projects with about €400 million in funding between 2007 and 2011. Robotics is a thriving sector major potential for growth over the coming years. A considerable share of research in robotics in Europe is focused on medical and rehabilitation research, such as robotics surgery (see IP/11/1462) and patient rehabilitation, for example with stroke patients who need constant monitoring and regularly adjusted support.

ALIZ-E project

ALIZ-E will use Aldebaran Nao robots as an implementation platform. The Nao is a small, autonomous, humanoid robot already widely used in robot soccer. The project, coordinated by the University of Plymouth (UK) involves a consortium of 7 academic partners comprising Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz (Germany), Imperial College (UK), The University of Hertfordshire (UK), National Research Council – Padova (Italy) and The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (The Netherlands) plus commercial partners GOSTAI (France) and Fondazione Centro San Raffaele del Monte Tabor (Italy). Funded under the European Commission’s 7th Research and Development Framework Programme the ALIZ-E project began in March 2010 and will run for a total of 4.5 years. It received € 8.2 million from the European Commission, out of a total budget of € 10.6 million.

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One Comment

  1. Kaitlin Reilly
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I find robotics fascinating. I’m interested in whether or not robots will ever have a true place in childhood education. While I do believe that if the technology continues to grow robotics could be very helpful to assisting children with educational efforts, I wonder if the money or technology will ever be there to make robots a part of daily life in the educational environment.
    My other concern with these robots would be whether it would be beneficial to have children form emotional bonds to robots, particularly if they are replacing other types of bonds, such as those between a student and their tutor.

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