Two professors at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) are planning to build the first emotional robot in the UAE.
As part of the UAEU’s ongoing work into robotics and artificial intelligence, Dr Massimiliano Cappuccio, associate professor at UAEU’s Department of Philosophy and director of the interdisciplinary cognitive science laboratory, and Jose Berengueres, assistant professor at the university’s robotics lab, are hoping to build the first robot that can express and interpret human emotion without language.
Cappuccio’s team will take charge of the social science part of the project, while Berengueres will handle the technological part.
“The idea is to focus on embodied cognition,” explains Massimiliano. “So we want to focus on bodily forms of interaction between human and robot. We won’t focus too much on linguistic communication, it is more something that can express a lot of emotions and also interpret your emotions and establish a strong bond with the human user. Imagine something like a pet that uses a lot of touch, gaze and gesture to communicate; no language.”
The goal, says Massimiliano, is to have a robot that can “correctly interpret the human gaze, touch and gesture and produce the same in a meaningful way”.
“Our lab will test the interaction and response from the point of view of the humans; Jose’s lab will develop the robot prototype based on the results of our experiments, and vice versa our experiments will be designed looking at the responses induced by the robot in the human users,” he adds.
UAEU has long been an advocate for the development of robotics, with a number of professors regularly speaking at, or hosting, workshops on the subject. This year’s Joint UAE Symposium On Social Robotics is a case in point.
Building on the success of last year’s inaugural symposium, the UAEU has announced the dates for this year’s event, which will take November 20-23 at UAEU in partnership with New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).
With an emphasis on the social impact of robotics, this year’s symposium will see industry experts, educators and innovators discuss and dissect the ethical and social implications of robotics, such as codes of conduct, moral and legal obligations towards artificial companions and public policy.
“There is one field of cognitive science that is today very important and that is cognitive robotics – robots that try to approximate (simulate) the human mind,” says Cappuccio. “In cognitive robotics, first of all you need to understand how the human mind works – functions like, for example memory, perception, language processing – and the purpose is to replicate these functions in an artificial agent. And there is a big effort in research and development around this. Of course we are still at the early stage and there are concerns – concerns, for example, about how robots can make decisions regarding ethical issues or decisions that can have ethical implications. The symposium aims to discuss these topics, and explore different approaches and future directions in social robotics.”