Robotics is one of the themes of this year’s edition of the International Festival of Technology. One of TU Delft’s researchers, Koen Hindriks knows all about robots, and in particular social robots. He researches how people react on social robots and how you can make them more intelligent. For years we have seen robots as a graphical user interface on our computer screens, but what if we would have a social robot in our house? Will they be helpful?
During our interview I learn that the correct emotional interaction in a particular context is most important, whether it is with humans or robots. ‘Emotion is the basis of all the interaction. When you get the feeling that the emotion isn’t right in the interaction, the whole interaction isn’t right,’ says Koen. With an experiment they tested how children reacted on a robot while playing a game with it. In one situation the robot would laugh when it would win, and in the other situation the robot would show some empathy with the kid by helping him and giving hints. The researchers looked at the difference between the reaction on humans and robots, and it turned out that robots had a comparable effect on the kids.
Another experiment they did with an , was letting it teach in a sad way in one class, and energetically in another class. ‘What would you expect from the behavior of both classes?’, Koen asks me. I answer that one would become calm and the other cheerful. Koen says that’s exactly what happened: one group quietly left the class room, while the other group even wanted to take selfies with the robot and were applauding for it. The same effects can be recognized when a normal teacher is in front of the class room.
The goal of his research is not to reach the same level of behavior as humans with the robots they develop, but the interaction with a robot should be comfortable at least. You don’t want to repeat your question three times while talking with a robot. An example Koen gives is about a service robot that is supposed to help you. The robot said ‘hello’ and people wouldn’t really start interacting with it. When they changed the sentence to ‘hello, how can I help you?’, people would stop and start a conversation. Besides the right programming in language, social cues as looking away or making eye contact are also important for feeling comfortable. The robot should look away at the right moments and have the right facial expressions while talking to you.
You don’t have to be afraid that robots will replace you at work. Of course some processes can be automated, but mostly robots can be a great help for humans. Robots act very consistent, in contrary to humans, who can be sometimes very unpredictable. However, humans are good at other things that are harder for robots to do. Getting to know why a kid cannot concentrate is much harder for a robot to find out than for a human. Reading facial expressions can be done with advanced software, but giving the right follow-up is still hard for a robot.
Even though some people have a robot in their home (think about an automatic vacuum cleaner or a device like Jibo), Koen doesn’t have one yet, maybe in the future he will but for now he just sometimes takes one home. During the festival Koen wants to make people conscious about what (social) robots can do and that we don’t have to be afraid that they will take over our jobs. He will bring robots to his interactive lecture at Friday afternoon and afterwards you can talk with them to experience them yourself.
More about Koen Hindriks: Koen Hindriks holds a PhD degree from Utrecht University and a MSc degree from the University of Groningen in Computing Science. Currently he is an Associate Professor at TU Delft in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science at the section Interactive Intelligence. Next to his work at TU Delft, he is also CEO of a start-up Interactive Robotics, where he works on creating a and hospitality robots.