There is increasing interest in developing robots that are not just functional, but which exhibit human-like interactivity: KEYi’s recently-announced Clicbot, for example, turned not to an engineer but to noted Pixar animator Carlos Baena to develop a clear personality for the device. While Clicbot is aimed at children, Honda is working on using the same techniques in a wider range of fields with its Haru robot platform.

“The design concept of Haru focuses on creating an emotionally expressive embodied agent that can support long-term, sustainable human-robot interaction,” explains the Honda Research Institute’s Dr. Randy Gomez in a piece penned for IEEE Spectrum. “People already have these kinds of relationships with their pets. Pets are social creatures people relate to create bonds without sharing the same types of perception, comprehension, and expression.

“This bodes well for robots such as Haru, which similarly may not perceive, comprehend, or express themselves in fully human-like ways, but which nonetheless can encourage humans to empathise with them. This may also prove to be a good strategy for grounding human expectations while maximizing emotional engagement.”

First unveiled in 2018, the initial Haru prototype is a telepresence robot controlled by a remote user: By adjusting its LCD eyes, which are mounted on a motorized neck, and its LED mouth, Haru is designed to be able to mimic its operator’s emotions – but that’s only part of the project. In future revisions, Gomez and colleagues are seeking to develop a robot with its own agency and personalities, developed with the assistance of human actors, to communicate in verbal and non-verbal ways.”

“Research with Haru will explore exciting applications driven by interaction, cooperation, creativity and design, suspending people’s disbelief so that each experience with Haru is a step in a shared journey,” claims Gomez, “demonstrating how people and robots might grow and find common purpose and enjoyment together in a hybrid human-robot society. Using Haru, researchers can investigate whether human-robot relations can become even more affectively rich and meaningful through informed design and better interaction strategies, as well as through more constant and varied engagement with users.”

More information is available on Gomez’ IEEE Spectrum article.

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