How to make robots more like humans

Robo, a robot who can play the trumpet and walk, designed by Toyota.

Robo, a robot who can play the trumpet and walk, designed by Toyota.

Actor, producer and director Julienne Greer is helping engineers build more emotionally responsive robots.

Greer is a theatre arts lecturer at the University of Arlington, Texas. “I truly believe (robots) will one day be a part of our normal, day-to-day lives,” she says. “With that in mind, don’t we want the people who design this technology to also consider how human beings express feelings and interact with one another?”

Greer, who is a trained method actor, has led scientists and engineers through simple method exercises – such as drinking a beverage – to enhance their sensory awareness. Such exercises “opens the imagination to the cognitive work our senses do all day, every day, to connect us to our world,” Greer says.

Part of her work involves categorising behaviours and gestures and understanding how these gestures create emotions in humans. Robot engineers may be able to apply these principles when programming robots.

Greer is also developing a data-capturing test to find out how humans respond to robots in a variety of circumstances.

“Performance, connection and authenticity are the gold standard that should be hoped for in the creation of the relationship between humans and robots,” she says.