Digital Agenda: Valentine’s Day – time to hug your favourite robot?


On St. Valentine’s Day, we want to be close to the ones we love. Researchers from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK are testing whether one day that special person in our life could be a robot.

Experiments have shown that children, for example, can become extremely attached to a robot playmate, but can the robot in turn can develop a bond with a human being? Could we one day expect robots to develop a behaviour that resembles human attachment? That is the question being explored in the ALIZ-E project

Emotion is central to all interactions, including the way we interact with technology. The ALIZ-E project focuses on robot-child interaction, capitalising on children’s open and imaginative responses to artificial ‘creatures,’ where children have said they want their robot-friend to help with homework, to play or even cook.

To enable such self-sustaining and constructive interactions – ones that take place between robot and human over days and weeks, rather than just a few minutes, the ALIZ-E project is looking to implement memory systems in robots. The role of memory is crucial in human social behaviour. While social relationships happen in the ‘here and now,’ they depend also on the past because our current behaviours are influenced by previous experiences of similar situations.

If successful, this research may lead to future applications, including the development of educational companion robots for young users. The next step in that journey is the ALIZ-E project taking robots out of the lab and putting them to the test with young patients in a paediatric department at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan. Researchers will explore whether the robot can engage and maintain the child’s interest during play by tailoring its own behaviour to the child’s individual use of language, speech patterns, body language and play preferences.

The EU funds research projects such the ALIZ-E robot as part of a wider effort to ensure the EU takes a leading share of the social progress and economic benefits brought about by the €15 billion a year global robotics industry. Here to read more.

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