Research to create emotion-savvy robots

Research to create emotion-savvy robots

17 Mar 2009

Scientists and researchers from La Trobe University Melbourne and Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Informatics  in Japan have established an international collaborative research centre at La Trobe University’s Research and Development Park, Bundoora, to take emotionally intelligent computer systems across their next frontier.

Launched today by La Trobe’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Research Professor Tim Brown, the Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation (RECCSI) will become the collaborative hub for researchers from three institutions working in the design and development of emotionally intelligent systems for computers.

In collaboration with NEC Corporation (NEC) - which recently installed a High Definition videolink between the Centre and NEC’s own research laboratories - RECCSI will function as an Australian-based resource centre linking Melbourne-based researchers with NEC scientists in Japan.

Their common aim is the development of emotionally intelligent Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for computers in the fields of health care, human resource management, cross-cultural communication, tourism, and robotics.

The centre has some of its early roots in collaborative research over several years between La Trobe’s Professor Rajiv Khosla and Kyoto University’s Professor Toyoaki Nishida in context-aware emotion based systems and conversational informatics.

Emotionally intelligent health care robot

The first of RECCSI’s futuristic progeny will be an emotionally intelligent health care robot being developed jointly by Professor Khosla and his team of researchers at La Trobe’s Faculty of Law and Management and a team of researchers at NEC Japan led by Dr. Keiji Yamada, General Manager, of NEC Computer & Communications Innovation Research Laboratories (CCIL).  

The prototype robot (minus EQ), and the emotionally intelligent systems that will make it savvy, already exist. NEC has the robots, and Professor Khosla and his team of researchers at La Trobe’s Faculty of Law and Management have developed the systems to make the robots emotionally intelligent.

La Trobe and NEC recently signed a Collaborative Research Agreement to bring their technologies together – to produce a health care robot with the capacity to recognise and respond to human emotions.

Designed especially to assist senior citizens, it will exercise its own emotional intelligence to evaluate the emotional state of patients admitted for surgery - before and after the surgery - in hospitals and health care clinics.  It will also assist carers of children with mental health or development disorders.

Health care is only the first of many potential applications of this new technology.

Others envisaged are EQ-savvy ICTs to assist human resources managers recruit and benchmark new staff  - to ensure they recruit people with requisite emotional intelligence - companion “drivers” or passenger robots to monitor driver fatigue and help reduce road fatalities, web-based intelligent robots in e-tourism to match people’s emotional preferences to their choice of holiday destination, persuasive dialogue systems to help the elderly in their daily lives, and emotionally intelligent “security” robots to assist with criminal investigations and anti-terrorist detection.

“The idea is to facilitate the well-being and sustainability of human society by improving the quality of life at work and in various lifestyle situations,” Dr Khosla says. “It would fundamentally alter the way ICTs process data and information in organisations and lifestyle situations in which people are involved”.

NEC’s Dr. Keiji Yamada agrees. “We strongly expect that this research will open up a new vista in research and design of ICTs and robots – to fulfil human potential and deepen mutual understanding,” he says.

Hot-linked via the HD video link to NEC’s CCIL in Nara, RECCSI’s researchers will participate in a novel cross-national collaboration pioneered by NEC, in which scientists from around the world collaborate openly under the high-tech surveillance of video cameras, microphones and sensors.

While the researchers develop future generations of network-linked computers and robots, NEC will continue road-testing a new kind of collaboration – capturing the brainstorming and ideas for the future on tape as they happen.

This modest Melbourne-based facility won’t be hot-wired, but the interactive video link to Japan will give researchers 24-hour access to NEC’s “Big Brother” CCIL Lab - facilitating international research. The collaboration will also facilitate three to six –month research internships at CCIL and Kyoto University in Japan for several postgraduate students at RECCSI.

Kyoto University researchers will contribute to several of RECCSI’s projects under a Memorandum of Understanding committing both Universities to collaborative research in Emotionally Intelligent Systems. These will encompass multiple applications including the development of an emotionally intelligent e-tourism robot.
The RECCSI program is funded and supported by Kyoto University’s Global Centre of Excellence (GCOE) Program and its Informatics Education and Research Center for Knowledge-Circulating Society. Kyoto University is supporting ongoing research at the Centre for three years.

NEC, Kyoto University and La Trobe University are collectively supporting research at RECCSI with contributions valued at around $AUD 1 million. 

The emotionally intelligent systems technology developed by Dr Khosla has been patented by La Trobe as a “Method and System for Monitoring Emotional State Changes.”

Dr Khosla said RECCSI’s broad objectives were:

  •     To promote inter-disciplinary research in social sciences and Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to shift     the design focus away from convenience towards social innovation leading to the sustainability of human society.
  •     To conduct research and training in socially intelligent ICTs which model and correlate verbal, non-verbal and written     forms of human communication between people, teams and communities.
  •     To develop ICTs in health care, aged care, human resource management, education, security, e-tourism, autism,     and bushfire and critical event management.
  •     To nurture collaboration nationally and international with other research centres and institutions
  •     To leverage the global reach of research partners for research, development and commercialisation.
  •     To organise international conferences and seminars in human-computer interaction, intelligent systems, and related     areas.
  •     To facilitate knowledge transfer to practitioners in the field.

About NEC Corporation
NEC Corporation is one of the world's leading providers of Internet, broadband network and enterprise business solutions dedicated to meeting the specialized needs of a diversified global base of customers. NEC delivers tailored solutions in the key fields of computer, networking and electron devices, by integrating its technical strengths in IT and Networks, and by providing advanced semiconductor solutions through NEC Electronics Corporation. The NEC Group employs more than 150,000 people worldwide. For additional information, please visit the NEC website at:

Associate Professor Rajiv Khosla: 0421 258 052





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