A Robot to Be Fond Of | Robotics

“Robots have long been established in industry. This is still not the case in private life,” says Professor Dr. Friederike Eyssel, of the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). “We already use many technical assistants, which help us in our daily living or provide support for our social lives. With the increasing proliferation of these systems, it is becoming ever more important that people accept and trust these systems.”

In the VIVA project, researchers at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC will first be working with the social robot Pepper. They aim to develop their own robot over the course of the project. Photo: Friso Gentsch/CITEC

In the VIVA project, researchers at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC will first be working with the social Pepper. They aim to develop their own over the course of the project. Photo: Friso Gentsch/CITEC

The goal of the new VIVA project is to design the interactive behavior of robots in such a way that humans also come to see robots as providing appealing enrichment in private and personal contexts. Participating members of VIVA include three universities, including Bielefeld University, the University of Augsburg, and the University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld, as well as three companies, including navel robotics GmbH (Munich), Neuland Software GmbH (Augsburg) and Visions4IT GmbH (Gauting). The Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF, Federal Ministry of Education and Research) is funding the project through the end of July 2021 with 2.67 million Euro, of which a good 700.000 Euro is allocated to CITEC.


“With VIVA, we want to push beyond the boundaries of all previous concepts for social robots,” says Claude Toussaint, of naval robotics in Munich, who is coordinating the project. “Instead, we want to create a vibrant character who is of people – the likes of which we’ve only ever seen before in animated films. This requires a finely choreographed interplay of absolute top Know-How from the most wide-ranging of disciplines.”

“A robot is typically considered to be trustworthy when it is functionally reliable,” says Professor Dr.-Ing. Stefan Kopp, of CITEC. “With social robots, it is crucial that the human understands the robot it is interacting with, while also being sure that he or she is also understood by the robot. Feedback such as eye contact plays an important role here. A connection to shared experiences and previous actions is also conductive to trust, and this requires continuous learning by both sides.” As head of the Social Cognitive Systems research group, Dr. Kopp and his team are developing the robot’s architecture and voice dialogue capabilities.

“The robot as a trusted companion in daily life should not, however, replace any interpersonal human contact – it should instead foster social inclusion for people,” says Eyssel, who heads the Applied Social Psychology and Gender Research group at CITEC. Together with her team, she is responsible for evaluating the project. As part of the EU research project CODEFROR (COgnitive Development for Friendly RObots and Rehabilitation), Eyssel is also already looking at the question of which psychological factors promote acceptance and having a positive attitude towards robots.

Initially, the scientists will conduct their research using Pepper, a social robot. “But our goal is to develop a new robot that is specially designed to generate likeability and social resonance,” says Stefan Kopp. “Next we will be working on a prototype, conceptualizing the technical foundation for this.”

Source: Bielefeld University

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