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Introducing ERWIN, the robot with feelings

Study at University of Lincoln aims to understand how long-term relationships may be forged between humans and androids

Meet ERWIN, the robot designed to bond with us.

ERWIN (Emotional Robot with Intelligent Network) has been developed at the University of Lincoln as part of a study attempting to understand how long-term relationships may be forged between humans and androids. These durable relationships could be important in cases where a robot operates as a personal aid or companion, for example when providing care for the elderly or support for people with autism.  

Dr John Murray, from the School of Computer Science at Lincoln, is behind the ‘friendly robot’, which is now being used in a new study carried out by PhD student Mriganka Biswas.

Biswas said: "When two people interact for the first time, if the two different personalities attract each other, a relationship forms. But, in the case of conventional human-robot interaction, after gathering information about the robot, the robot's lack of identifiable characteristics and personality prevents any relationship bond developing."

The key obstacle in forming a bond with a robot may lie in our flawed human thought processes. As humans, we have the tendency to use certain illogical patterns of thought, or cognitive biases, when making judgements about the world and other people around us. We do this because these shortcuts allow us to make quicker decisions and free up our limited mental space for dealing with unfamiliar input. Our biases shape our personality, and according to Biswas, are what make us human.  

Computers and robots, on the other hand, generally operate according to rational rules, which make them seem very far removed from us. Introducing cognitive bias to a robot and giving it personality traits will render it more human-like. As demonstrated in the video, ERWIN can express five basic emotions whilst interacting with us.

Alongside ERWIN, the researchers will be looking at the responses people have to another robot, named Keepon. It is non-emotive, but is humanoid in appearance. By comparing how people react to ERWIN and Keepon, the researchers hope to discover which type of robot is more effective in engaging with humans, and which is more conducive to creating a long-term relationship.

“A companion robot needs to be friendly and have the ability to recognise users’ emotions and needs, and to act accordingly. The robot needs to form a ‘long-term’ relationship with its users, which is possible by continuous interactions and the robot having its own personality and characteristics”, according to Biswas.

In addition to advancing the technology behind companion robots, it is hoped that the study could also help inform how relationships are formed by children with autism, Asperger syndrome or attachment disorder.