Human touch: Holly Cave cuddles Heart Robot, which is designed to react emotionally to humans
It may be his appearance that is pressing the wrong buttons with some young acquaintances. Heart Robot, who has been programmed to react ’emotionally’, depending on how he is treated, has brought out the bully in many of the visitors to a science event.
The electronic puppet, created by scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol, visibly relaxes in response to soothing, low sounds or a gentle touch.
But when jolted with a loud noise or sudden movement, his pulse races and his fists clench.
Holly Cave, who helped organise the ‘Emotibots’ event at the London Science Museum, in which Heart Robot features, said: ‘Heart Robot looks like a cross between ET and Gollum (from Lord Of The Rings)and is about the size of a small child.
‘Different children react to him very differently. They either want to hug and cuddle him, and look after him like a doll or baby, or they just want to scare him.’
Heart Robot, created by scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol, was designed to explore what happens when machines interact emotionally with humans.
But he also revealed something about the psychological differences between pre-teen children.
Holly said: ‘He’s half robot, half puppet. You move him around by hand, but he has innate responses that appear emotional.
Also taking part in the Emotibots event this week is Hexapod, a six-legged metallic spidery robot that tracks people’s faces and latches onto visitors who walk around it.
If a person holds Hexapod’s gaze long enough what it sees is downloaded and projected onto a plasma screen.
Children are invited to interact with the Hexapod robot, which also takes pictures of visitors’ faces to be uploaded onto its website.
‘A huge number of children will be seeing Wall-E, and it seemed interest in robots was higher than ever,’ said Holly.
‘Everyone’s falling for the ‘lonely’ robot WALL-E, but the idea of robots having emotions or a personality may no longer just be science fiction.
‘How humans and robots might interact in the future is something that raises lots of interesting ethical and moral questions.
‘We wanted to do something where children can get up close and interact with the robots.
‘For most of them it will probably be the first time they’ve seen a robot up close. We hope the exhibit will make them think about robots, and whether or not they can really form an emotional attachment to them.’
The robot, invented by animatronics expert Matt Denton, has six legs and a single camera for an eye.
It has had a starring role in several films – prototypes for it were used in two Harry Potter films, for Hagrid’s pets. Currently Mr Denton is trying to secure funding for a larger, 2m-wide version.
Emotibots is free and takes place at the Science Museum from today until Thursday.