She’s got a mind all of her own

The ‘girl’ in the middle is Actroid-F, a robot designed to look, move and speak as we do. Photo: Peter Rae What do you see when you look at this picture? Three young, attractive humans? Look closer.

The figure in the middle may be young and attractive, but is not human. Actroid-F is an android, a robot designed to look, move and speak as we do.

Visiting from Japan, Actroid-F is the focus of experiments being conducted at the University of NSW’s College of Fine Arts to understand how people and robots interact.

“Robots are the way of the future,” said artist and researcher Mari Velonaki.

”This doesn’t mean they will replace humans but they need to know how to respond to us,” said Associate Professor Velonaki, the director the university’s new Creative Robotics Lab.

Professor Velonaki, who studies how people’s engage with machines, will collaborate with world-leading robotics engineer and Actroid-F’s inventor Yoshio Matsumoto and cognitive psychologist Katsumi Watanabe to examine how individuals from different cultures perceive robots.

They will use this information to further refine the appearance, behaviour and sociability of robots, who are expected to become a greater part of home and work life.

”Japanese like robot research because we are familiar with robot movies and cartoons but it is said that western people don’t like robots so much,” Professor Matsumoto, from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said.

For robots to be useful they needed to be accepted by society and able to communicate with people, he said.

While engineers had built machines that could talk and look like humans, it was challenging to develop androids with facial expressions and eye gaze. How robots perceived human behaviour was also difficult to program, Professor Matsumoto said.

”The robot can do what we order [it to do] but the problem is what we let them do,” he said.

In the new lab, study participants are quizzed about their impression of the Actroid-F, who can blink, respond to eye contact and recognise body language, before and after meeting her.

PhD student Kerstin Haring said most people were surprised how realistic the android looked.

Ms Haring also measures how close participants sit to the robot.

”We have three interaction tasks so we check if there is any change in the distance between them and the robot,” she said.

The team also conduct a basic trust exercise with participants, which is used routinely in psychology, to compare whether people’s trust differs between robots and other people.

So far they have found people who identify as having an extroverted personality were more comfortable interacting with Actroid-F.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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