Man's other best friend

03 Nov 2011

Author: Julietta Jameson

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An international research project has created a health-care robot that can respond to human emotions.
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It’s a match made in IT heaven: a company renowned for excellent interfaces between users and technology and a research team committed to taking robotics to a whole new level of user-friendly.

That one company is in Japan and another in Melbourne has been no barrier to success. The Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation (RECCSI) at Bundoora is a new centre for collaboration between La Trobe University, Melbourne, Kyoto University and electronics giant NEC.

First cab off the rank: 
La Trobe and NEC signed a Collaborative Research Agreement to bring their technologies together to produce a health-care robot with the capacity to recognise and respond to human emotions. Designed to assist senior citizens, it will exercise its own emotional intelligence to evaluate the emotional state of patients admitted for surgery in hospitals and health care clinics. It will also assist carers and has applications in human resources, travel, security and road safety. It can even evaluate when a driver is about to nod off.

The head designer of the intelligence programs is La Trobe University’s Associate Professor Rajiv Khosla, director of RECCSI. “Through collaboration with NEC, Japan, Kyoto University and other international partners we are addressing global problems related to an ageing population, spiralling health-care costs, sustainability of organisations and the environment,” says Khosla. “The global nature of these problems requires open innovation among researchers – an idea promoted by NEC’s C&C Innovation Research laboratory.”

The electronics giant NEC’s personal robot nicknamed PaPeRo (Partner-type Personal Robot) is a phenomenal development in itself. Its natural expressions and ability to remember unique preferences combined with vast voice recognition and communication capabilities as well as the ability to recognise people’s faces has brought around a new phase in personal computing. “The idea is to facilitate the well-being and sustainability of human society by improving the quality of life at work and in various lifestyle situations,” says Khosla.

Armed with Khosla’s programming, these robots could soon be doing everything from helping children with autism to recruiting personnel.

Khosla’s emotionally intelligent systems technology has been patented by La Trobe as a “Method and System for Monitoring Emotional State Changes”. The high functionality of the robot – and its cuteness -– is pure NEC.