Teaching robots to blink is important

This is my inaugural attempt at drumming with a robot.

Seated across from me is an endearing humanoid robot named the iCub. Both the robot and I possess a stick and box, and our goal is to hit the box with the stick in unison with a luminous pattern. However, I can’t help but monitor the robot’s movements while I drum, all the while cognizant that it is observing me as well.

The purpose of this drumming experiment is to examine the impact of a robot engaging in the same task on human behavior.

This trial is one of several investigations on human-robot interaction being conducted by the CONTACT (Cognitive Architecture for Collaborative Technologies) research team at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa.

Despite the presence of lights and other individuals in the area, my attention keeps gravitating towards the iCub’s weighty white eyelids.

One reason for this is the audible sound that the robot produces when it blinks intermittently. Furthermore, the iCub’s captivating gaze is intensified by its expressive, enlarged eyes, which lend it a childlike appearance.

The significance lies in the fact that, similar to other facets of eye contact, blinking has a deeper significance beyond its obvious physical function.

Helena Kiilavuori, a psychology researcher at the University of Tampere in Finland, notes, “Although blinking is commonly thought to be a reflexive biological response that aids in safeguarding the eyes and providing lubrication, it also plays a critical role in establishing two-way communication.”

Blinking in humans conveys attention and emotion, serving as a non-verbal form of communication that expresses various subconscious messages, including turn-taking cues in conversations.

Consequently, it is among the numerous social cues that humans frequently exchange unconsciously, yet still gather a considerable amount of information and comfort from.

Social roboticists have been analyzing the physiological and psychological characteristics of human blinking to determine the potential benefits of replicating it in robots.

Ms. Kiilavuori suggests that integrating eye-blinking into robots could enhance their human-like appearance and lead to better interaction between humans and robots, considering the crucial role that blinking plays in human behavior.

In other words, as David Hanson, the leader of Hanson Robotics puts it, “If the robot blinks convincingly, people empathize with the character.”

Research conducted by CONTACT involving 13-year-olds and adults in Italy indicates that both age groups are more fond of robots that blink. Alessandra Sciutti, who heads the CONTACT unit, notes that a robot that does not blink can make people feel uneasy as if they are being watched.

The ability of robots to blink more naturally is associated with higher perceived intelligence by humans. This is particularly relevant in situations where robots are expected to provide information, such as train stations.

While the advantages of incorporating natural-looking blinking into robots are significant, it is technically demanding to achieve this in robots that lack avatars or screen displays for faces.

According to Ms. Kiilavuori, “Blinking is one of the most delicate human movements, necessitating the use of advanced technology such as high-precision motors to simulate these motions.” Engineered Arts’ roboticists, for example, employ costly, aerospace-grade motors and develop their control electronics to address this challenge.

Source : bbc.com

By Ryan

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