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The robot uses 'social gazing' to mirror your actions

 

During conversations, people typically mirror the gaze of others to make them feel comfortable and show signs of empathy.

It's a social skill and one that comes naturally to many people, making it one of the hardest things to mimic when creating life-like robots - until now.

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin has developed a large-eyed bot designed to match the gaze of people it interacts with.

Sean Andrist believes that changing how a robot makes eye contact can improve the experience for the people they talk to.

As we interact with people throughout the day, we pick up on a number of unconscious signals, with our eyes looking away and darting back as we make and break eye contact.

This is known as social gazing.

Mr Andrist studied such habits of real people to figure out how best to program a robot's gaze to mimic this behaviour.

He filmed conversations of people in the lab, noting the degree to which they looked away as they conversed.

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin has developed a large-eyed robot which matches the gaze of people it interacts with.

Sean Andrist studied gaze habits of real people to figure out how best to program a robot's gaze behaviour.

He filmed conversations of people in the lab, noting the degree to which they looked away as they conversed.

This was then built into an algorithm for the robots and measured whether it improved robot-human interactions.

In addition, the robot can adapt to people's personalities.

For example, introverted people are likely to avert their gaze more often, and break eye contact more, whereas extroverts are likely to hold eye contact.

The robot picks up on this and is able to adjust accordingly.

This was then built into an algorithm for the robots, which he then applied and measured to see whether it improved robot-human interactions.

The constant dead-eyed mechanical stare of a robot could be uncomfortable for some.

So one aspect of the research was to measure the point in conversations at which people broke eye contact from each other.

He found that when the robot exhibited the same behaviour, frequently looking away from a person, it improved the overall experience for the person interacting with it.

In a presentation of his PhD thesis, Andrist explained: 'These conversations were much more fluid when the robot looked away correctly.

'They interrupted each other less and people actually just enjoyed talking with that robot more.'

He added that these expressive robots may be able to help people learn better, to express a personality of their own and even to help motivate people in rehabilitation.

If the robot uses the same human gaze behaviour, it gives subtle signs that mean people are more likely to comply with requests - which could be taking their medicine, or doing regular exercise.

What's more, the robot is able to adapt to users' personalities, depending on if they are introverts or extroverts.

A new wave of social robots are emerging as researchers look to improve human interactions with our mechanical 'friends'.

In Singapore, researchers recently created a robot receptionist 'Nadine' who is touted as the latest in a new generation of robots, capable of conversing with people, adapting their responses and remembering previous conversations.

According to her creators, the humanoid has her own personality and is capable of displaying positive and negative moods and emotions.

This new wave of social robots could ultimately be commercialised for use as personalised assistants in the workplace, and even as companions for children and the elderly.

The technology could also be rolled out at much lower cost, by appearing on a screen or monitor.

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