January 1, 2003
Science fiction often depicts robots of the future as machines that look like people and feel, or at least hanker after the ability to feel, human emotions. A team at Vanderbilt University is turning this notion on its head by developing a robotic assistant whose goal is not to develop emotions, but rather respond to the moods of its human master. By processing information sent from physiological sensors the human counterpart wears, the Vanderbilt robot can detect when its master is having a bad day and approach with the query: "I sense that you are anxious. Is there anything I can do to help?" But do people really want a machine sensing their anxiety and offering assistance? If that's all the Vanderbilt robot was intended to do, it wouldn't have much shelf life. But the research team has a specific kind of service in mind for its mechanical assistant. Researchers envision the emotion-sensing robot serving military personnel on the battlefield. . . robotics researchers agree that the Vanderbilt robot has potential but needs fine tuning. "Taking these (physiological) signals is certainly a good indication of the human state, but we are at a very primitive stage of understanding the relation between the internal states --what is observable -- and human emotion," said Takeo Kanade; Director of the Robotics Institute; U.A. and Helen Whitaker Professor of CS and Robotics; Professor of ECE.