Nao, the most human of robots

9 Aug 2010

The University of Hertfordshire in the UK has developed a robot named Nao that has both the capability of acquiring a range of emotions and expressing them, essentially interacting with people in a human-like interaction.

Nao was developed by a European research project called FEELIX Growing at the University of Hertfordshire led by Dr Lola Cañamero.

The idea behind the robot is that it has the emotional intelligence of a one-year-old child so depending on how humans approach the robot, it should act accordingly.

“We are working on non-verbal cues and the emotions are revealed through physical postures, gestures and movements of the body rather than facial or verbal expression,” Dr Cañamero said.

Video of Nao in action shows it stretching it arms and reaching out for a hug or cowering in fear if you tap it abruptly on the head. It can also express anger, happiness, sadness, pride and excitement.

The robot has been trained in the same way that a baby learns to interact with it surroundings: by mimicking behaviours and forming an emotional bond with a person when it is treated kindly.

Cañamero told the Guardian: “If you want to tell the robot it’s doing well, you might show your face or smile or you might pat them on the head.”

The robot has a memory so it can learn from different kinds of experiences or interactions. Nao is a new form of socially cognisant robot that could potentially provide company for those who are socially isolated or would enjoy its company.

While Nao can pick up on body language there is no information on how strong or resistant it is to its environment. It is programmed to be curious and will pick objects up, but let’s hope that it hasn’t got curiously (well, robotically) strong strength that would cause it to pick up small animals and squash them in its grasp.

It can, however, detect force and gravity because it is able to pick itself up when it is pushed over.