Using emotions to make robots friendlier

Robots capable of showing feelings and recognising emotion in humans: Emotional robots are one of the biggest themes of the Conference on Human-Robot-Interaction (HRI) at Bielefeld University. The Congress, which has attracted over 300 researchers from more than 30 countries, will take place from 3 to 6 March 2014.

As part of the conference, research institutions and technology enterprises will present robots that are able to socially interact with people or are learning how to do so. A number of these can show emotions.

The humanoid robot head Furhat, constructed by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden is one of them. The robot is equipped with a 3D mask, on which its eyes, nose and mouth are projected from behind. Facial emotional expressions also play an important role for the robot head Flobi in communicating with humans. Flobi was developed by the Cluster of Excellence CITEC of Bielefeld University. Its lips and eyebrows are made of rubber and are attached to its face with magnets. Small motorised actuators inside the head move the magnets so that it appears to be friendly, surprised or cheeky. The toddler-sized robot iCub, developed at the Italian Institute of Technology, is also undergoing research at Bielefeld University. Diodes illuminate its artificial face from behind, causing lips and eyebrows to appear and alter depending on the situation.

“We are teaching robots how to show emotions so that they will be better accepted by humans than systems that appear to be more technical,” says Professor Dr. –Ing. Gerhard Sagerer, Rektor of Bielefeld University and researcher at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC of Bielefeld University. ‘When robots like Flobi, iCub and Furhat use nonverbal communication, then the user can understand the machine’s behaviour quicker than if it only reacted using spoken words alone,’ explains Sagerer. ‘This is the reason why the robot has to look more human and needs a face. People are used to reading emotions from faces without having to think too much about it.’

His colleague, Professor Dr.–Ing. Britta Wrede, who is also a researcher at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC at Bielefeld University, endorses this. ‘It is our aim that people and robots can communicate naturally. This is why we are working on making robots more socially adept. It is not only important that they show emotions, they should also be able to read our nonverbal expressions so that they are able to respond adequately in a variety of different settings. Emotional robots make it easy for us to communicate with them because it is natural for us to perceive information through facial expressions,’ she explains. ‘They come across as being friendlier, as if they have their own personality because they can show emotions.’

Workshops and talks deal with the question, for example, how behaviour and emotions of robots have to be adapted to different cultures. In addition, research projects will be presented on how people perceive the nonverbal expressions of current robots. Furthermore the question will be addressed, how robots adapt their emotions when they play with children.

Further information is available online at:

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Britta Wrede, Universität Bielefeld
Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC)
Telephone: 0521 106-2953