ERWIN is designed to help researchers discover how more realistic and meaningful relationships can be developed between humans and our robotic companions.
The robot itself appears to be very simplistic, a couple of eyes (possibly made from ping-pong balls), two eyebrows and a mouth both controlled by two servos to allow some mechanical movement in each facial feature. Its name is derived from acronym of the projects title Emotional Robot with Intelligent Network, the creation of Dr John Murray, from the School of Computer Science, University of Lincoln, UK.
The robot is being used for a PhD study into robot-human interaction and how the characteristics of a robot affect the humans perception of the relationship and interactions with the robot. The aim is to learn how best to create robot aesthetics to most positively impact upon the reception from a human stand point, which are often judged on illogical characteristics which lead to distorted or inaccurate conclusions . Not only are the researchers interested in human-robot interaction, they hope to benefit our knowledge how children with autism, Asperger syndrome or attachment disorder deal with relationships.
Alongside ERWIN, participants will also be presented with the Keepon robot, which was originally intended to study social development and autism but which quickly became an internet sensation and even made it onto a few adverts in the UK.
One question I’d like to understand is; why does the robot need to have a mechanically moving facial features, would a virtual face on a screen not suffice? There’s no doubt virtual characters can be engaging, from simplistic expressions like the emoticons displayed on Moon‘s GERTY to more complex 3D facial modelling found in many video games and films, let’s take the Halo series’ Cortana – both equally able to capture a connection with an inanimate object perfectly well. One answer may be that the experiment involves non-verbal interactions, communicating solely through expressions.
For the answer to that however, we’ll have to wait until more details or papers are released on the project.