New 'emotional' robots aim to read human feelings


The robot called Forpheus does more than play a mean game of table tennis. It can read body language to gauge its opponent's abilities as well as offer advice and encouragement.

"It will try to understand your mood, playing ability and predict a bit about your next shot," said Keith Kersten of Japan-based Omron Automation, which developed Forpheus to showcase its technology.

Although empathy and emotional intelligence do not necessarily require a humanoid form, some robot makers have been working on form as well as function.

"We've been working very hard to create an emotional robot," said Jean-Michel Mourier of French-based Blue Frog Robotics, which makes a companion and social robot called Buddy, set to be released later this year.

Developing emotional intelligence in robots is a difficult task, melding the use of computer "vision" to interpret objects and people, and creating software that can respond accordingly.

"Empathy is the goal. The robot is putting itself in the shoes of the human, and that's about as hard as it gets," said Patrick Moorhead, a technology analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

"It's not just about technology. It's about psychology and trust."

"There has been a lot of research on detecting human emotions. We do the opposite. We synthesize emotions for the machine," said Patrick Levy-Rosenthal, founder of New York-based Emoshape, which is producing its chip for partners in gaming, virtual and augmented reality, and other sectors.

It could be used to power a humanoid robot or other devices. For example, an e-reader could better understand a text to infuse more emotion into storytelling.

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