A team of Melbourne researchers hope to have ‘emotionally intelligent’ robots ready to provide assistance in hospitals and aged care within five years.

Dr Rajiv Khosla and his team from La Trobe University have established an international collaborative network with Kyoto University and NEC.

Using a $1 million grant over the next three years, they will work on developing robots that can detect and respond appropriately to human emotions.

Dr Khosla said society has been changing in recent decades but the field of information and communication technology has not kept up.

“Computers and robotic technology are now an integral part of life so we want to humanise them and incorporate human qualities into them,” he said.

“We want them to be able to interact with older people in an emotionally intelligent manner.”

Such robots could provide preventive health support to older people living in their own homes by engaging in persuasive dialogue.

“While the robot is having intelligent dialogue with its human partner, it will also track their emotional and facial expressions and map them according to whether they reflect a positive or negative emotional state,” Dr Khosla said.

“The robots will then integrate those emotions with the dialogue just as we humans do and then respond in an emotionally intelligent way.”

There are also plans to use emotionally aware robots to enable isolated older people to connect with family and friends over the internet.

Dr Khosla said emotionally intelligent robots are not intended to replace nurses or carers but to help older people remain independent and connected as the population ages.

“We are fundamentally changing the design focus of information and communications technology to improve the sustainability of human society,” he said.

It is expected that pilot trials using emotionally intelligent robots will begin in the next 12-36 months.

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