"May I interrupt?": Robots are to Learn to Act in an Interpersonally Sensitive Manner
Robots need basic interaction skills if they are to help people at home or in care facilities. For example, they must be able to accept and pass on things safely. "To guarantee this, it is not enough for the robot to perceive the object itself, for example via camera," explains IOSB researcher Dr. Sebastian Robert. "In order to be able to behave in an expectation-compliant, i.e. interpersonally compatible, manner, the robot must also recognize where its human counterpart is currently focusing its attention and understand what their intentions are," says Robert.
Algorithms to assess and influence attention
Since August 2017, this topic has been the focus of the three-year ASARob project, which is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with around two million euros. The concrete goal of the project is to improve the control software of mobile robots in such a way that they can detect the state of attention of the person in front of them and, if necessary, influence it by taking appropriate actions. The Care-O-bot 4 (www.care-o-bot.de) developed by the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA and Unity Robotics GmbH serves as a test system for the exemplary implementation of these capabilities. The mobile robot is especially suited for interaction with and support of humans in everyday environments and can easily be adapted to different tasks due to its modularity (e.g. equipped with or without robot arms).
"We define attention as an allocation of consciousness resources to specific environmental perceptions, i.e. a mental state," explains Sebastian Robert. "Information about this is provided by visual information such as a person's gaze direction, head rotation and body posture." Speech utterances could provide additional context clues. Based on this information, ASARob should be able to assess the state of attention in the future.
User studies and linguistic dialog capability
The requirements of potential users as well as ethical, legal and social (so-called ELSI) aspects raised by the project are being researched by the Leipzig-based Fraunhofer Center for International Management and Knowledge Economics IMW. Fraunhofer economists ensure a market orientation at an early stage and take a close look at economic aspects in the project, such as the value drivers and the willingness to pay of future users.
To find out whether the robot's assessment of the state of attention corresponds with reality, biosignals are recorded and evaluated in user studies. In this way, the researchers can compare the real state of attention with the calculated assessment. The Cognitive Systems Lab CSL at the University of Bremen is responsible for this part of the project.
The attention estimate is then translated into appropriate behavior. This is also part of the project: In the end, the robot should be able to interact intuitively with people and, in particular, be able to approach elderly people and support them in their everyday lives. In addition to gestures, this also includes verbal communication in the form of dialogs. Semvox GmbH will contribute this capability. The geriatric center in Karlsruhe-Rüppurr and the geriatric network in Leipzig are involved in the project as potential users of the robot. In their facilities, relevant requirements for the technology are to be identified, the robot is to be tested in a practical manner in guiding people and handing interaction media to residents, and its ability to interact with seniors is to be evaluated.
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