Empathic Human-Robot Interaction: A Joint Industry-Academia Outlook for the Future


Date, time:

24th March 2017, 8:30-10:00am, Edinburgh

Part of the European Robotics Forum 2017


The WS emerges from the Topic Group Natural Interaction with Social Robots




·       Kerstin Dautenhahn (University of Hertfordshire, UK)

·       Teena Chakkalayil Hassan (Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, Germany)

·       Ana Paiva (Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)

·       Katrin Lohan (Heriot-Watt University, Scotland)


Motivation and Objectives:


The motivation of this WS is to bring together experts from the industry and academia to discuss the achievements and highlight the challenges involved in empathic human-robot interaction, as well as to jointly outline where we should be heading and how industry, academia and research institutions could collaborate to define and drive new research directions to address the challenges and key open issues. Empathy is a complex concept with psychological, biological and neurobiological dimensions. It typically relates to people’s ability to understand other’s feelings and thoughts, and is a multi-faceted concept with cognitive and emotional dimensions. Empathy is also becoming increasingly relevant in robotics and in particular the areas of social robotics and human-robot interaction where we aim at developing systems that are not only efficient at the execution of certain tasks, but are able to “understand” the person they are interacting with, and convey their ability to the person. This touches upon hard problems in robotics and computer science, e.g. social signal processing in verbal and non-verbal human-robot interaction, modelling of another’s internal states, establishing methods for quantifying an empathetic relationship and thus determining success of solutions, beliefs and goals and creating human-robot interactions whereby people feel that the robot actually “cares” about them.   The benefits of such intuitive communication could spread also beyond social robotics, as for instance in robotics applications for small manufacturing. For example,  Baxter (by Rethink robotics) exploits a screen with (non-functional) eyes, just to leverage on its partners intuitive understanding of gaze-based signals in order to facilitate the collaboration. Empathic communication and interaction may thus significantly enhance the effectiveness and acceptability of robots in industrial contexts.


Confirmed speakers:


·       Dr. Alessandra Sciutti, Cognitive Robotics and Interaction Lab at the Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department of IIT: “Actions as a mean of empathic communication

·       Prof. Andrea Bonarini, AI & Robotics Lab, Politecnico di Milano, Italy, “Achieving empathic relationships with low cost robots: a need to get  market leading positions” 

·       Prof. Agnieszka Wykowska, Social Cognition in Human-Robot Interaction unit, IIT, “Social attunement in social cognitive neuroscience and human-robot interaction” 

·       Prof. Paul Verschure, Catalan Institute of Advanced Research and Universitat Pompeu Fabra, “Results on robot empathy obtained in different EU projects” 

·       Dr. Costanza Navarretta, Department of Nordic Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, “Mirroring facial expressions and the emotions/attitudes in the mirrored and mirroring expression” 

·       Prof. Dr. Erwin Prassler, Vice President IEEE-RAS (Industrial Activities): “Robotics and Empathy: The Uncanny Valley / A Critique”




8:30-8:35 Welcome and introduction by the organisers

8:35-9:05 Five-min Position statements/brief talks by selected participants (see above)

9:05-9:40 Small-group brainstorming in 3 groups

9:40-9:55 Presentation of the outcome by each table moderator

9:55-10:00 Final discussion and future steps