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August 14, 2010 9:03 AM PDT 

by Tim Hornyak

If you think robots are heartless piles of plastic and silicon, you’re correct. But soccer-playing humanoid robot Nao has been evolving by developing “emotions” under a European project and is now being used in the U.S. in sessions to treat autistic children.

Under the recently concluded Feelix Growing project–aimed at designing bots that can detect and respond to human emotional cues–researchers at the University of Hertfordshire’s Adaptive Systems Group and other centers have been trying to get Nao to simulate human emotions.

Researcher Lola Canamero and colleagues have been programming Nao–created by Aldebaran Robotics and used worldwide as a research bot–based on how human and chimpanzee infants interact with others. Working with a budget of some $3.2 million, the researchers have been trying to create robots that can be better companions for people.

In a gushing report, the Daily Mail has hailed Nao as “the first robot capable of developing emotions and forming bonds with humans.”

Robot fans who remember Sony’s robot dog Aibo, discontinued in 2006, will recall that it had a range of synthetic emotions and could “grow” emotionally according to how it interacted with its owner.

It’s no surprise that the researchers have also been experimenting with Aibo, including the cyberpup and Nao in a “robot nursery” designed to incubate emotional behaviors. Nao can so far express excitement, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, and pride, and supposedly has the “emotional skills” of a 1-year-old child.

Using its facial-recognition skills, Nao can become attached to people who help it learn, just like a human infant. When confronted with an unfamiliar situation, or when neglected by its human caregiver, Nao can become agitated. It will remember past experiences it interprets as positive or negative.

Read in Full:  http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20013657-1.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20



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