Robots already perform many traditionally human tasks, from vacuuming to surgery—and they could soon help care for the sick and elderly. But until they can convincingly discern and mimic emotions, their caretaker value will be severely limited. In an effort to create “friendlier” machines, researchers are developing robotic helpers that can better read and react to social signals.
In late 2016 IBM unveiled the Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (MERA), a customized version of the Pepper robot developed by SoftBank. Pepper, an ivory-colored android about the height of a seven-year-old, can detect and respond to human emotions via vocal cues and facial expressions. It has already been deployed as a friendly assistant in Japanese stores and homes.
MERA, specifically designed as an at-home companion for the elderly, records and analyzes videos of a person’s face and calculates vital signs such as heart and breathing rates.
Read more: Grandma’s Little Robot