Jan 042011

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a computer system that's able to recognize and respond to the emotions and gestures of its human user, and outputs its own response via a specially-designed robot

While computer systems are now very capable of recognizing vocal input, they offer minimal interactive feedback.

A team of Cambridge University researchers have now developed a system that can not only detect a user’s emotional state, but can also make expressive responses of its own. Using a robotic likeness of the godfather of the programmable computer, Charles Babbage, the team has hooked the system up to a driving simulator and created a computerized driving companion and navigator that reacts to the driver in much the same way as a human passenger.

When people talk to each other, we gauge much of how the other person feels by their facial expression and/or from how something is said. We pick up emotions from tone of voice and facial expressions that allow us to decide how best to continue our conversations – to empathize with sadness, share happiness, or react to anger or frustration. People even express themselves in this way when interacting with machines, but the devices don’t seem capable of reacting to how a person feels.

Team leader Professor Peter Robinson challenged his team from the Rainbow Graphics and Interaction Research Group to build a system that could “understand not just what I’m saying, but how I’m saying it.”

Helping computers to understand emotion

Over the years, computer interfaces have become quite proficient at taking raw input and transforming it into digital data. Voice recognition software is now quite a capable means of entering information into a computer system. Getting a computer to talk back as we would is another matter, so the researchers drew on the extensive knowledge of their colleagues from Cambridge University‘s Autism Research Center, who study the difficulties that some people have understanding emotions.

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