Ginevra Castellano 

Associate Senior Lecturer in Intelligent Interactive Systems
Department of Information Technlogy
Uppsala University, Sweden

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- EMbOdied-perceptive Tutors for Empathy-based learning

EMOTE logo

I am the coordinator of the EU FP7 STREP Project EMOTE (budget 2.9 million EUR; 2012-2016)  funded in the last ICT Call 8 (Objective ICT-2011.8.1: Technology-enhanced learning: (a) Technology-Enhanced Learning systems endowed with the capabilities of human tutors). The EMOTE project will design and evaluate a new generation of robotic tutors that have perceptive capabilities to engage in empathic interactions with learners in schools and home environments. 

The EMOTE consortium includes 6 European partners including the University of Birmingham, INESC-ID-Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores, Investigacao e Desenvolvimento em Lisboa, Heriot-Watt University, Jacobs University Bremen, University of Gothenburg, and University of Sunderland.

Project summary

Significant work has been devoted to the design of artificial tutors with human capabilities with the aim of helping increase the efficiency achieved with a human instructor. Yet, these systems still lack the personal, empathic and human elements that characterise a traditional teacher and fail to engage and motivate students in the same way a human teacher does. The EMOTE project will design, develop and evaluate a new generation of artificial embodied tutors that have perceptive capabilities to engage in empathic interactions with learners in a shared physical space. Overall, the EMOTE project aims to (1) research the role of pedagogical and empathic interventions in the process of engaging the learner and facilitating their learning progress and (2) explore if and how the exchange of socio-emotional cues with an embodied tutor in a shared physical space can create a sense of connection and social bonding and act as a facilitator of the learning experience. This will be done across different embodiments (both virtual and robotic), allowing for the effect that such embodiment will have on engagement and empathy to be explored. Further, the project will support the migration of the artificial tutors across different embodiments, to support students’ learning in both formal and informal settings. To ground the research in a concrete classroom scenario, the EMOTE project will develop a showcase in the area of geography, focusing on environmental issues. This will enable tutors to be tested in real world school environments in different European countries. In order to achieve these objectives, the EMOTE consortium will bring together experts to carry out interdisciplinary research on affect recognition, learner models, adaptive behaviour and embodiment for human-robot interaction in learning environments, grounded in psychological theories of emotion in social interaction and pedagogical models for learning facilitation.

EMOTE has received some press coverage in The Sunday Times in the UK:
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The article also raises some interesting ethical and social concerns about the potential for robots to replace human teachers in teaching environments.  The EMOTE project, of course, as mentioned in the article, focuses instead on robots as support for the teachers and facilitators for learning, and how these new technologies can be used to create engaging interactive learning scenarios in the classroom.

This article may also be of interest:
Castellano, G., & Peters, C. (2010). Socially Perceptive Robots: Challenges and Concerns. Interaction Studies, 11(2), John Benjamins Publishing Company.

More coverage for the EMOTE project at the Nesta event "Emotional Machines: Is society ready for robot companions?" to which I partecipated in July 2013. Watch the video!