Page last updated at 23:24 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 00:24 UK

The robot that loves to be hugged


A robot love story: The University of the West of England's David McGoran takes his Heart Robot on a touchy feely tour, allowing it to come face to face with a spider-like robot built by Matt Denton of Micromagic Systems.

A robot that "enjoys" being cuddled and stroked has gone on display at London's Science Museum.

The Heart Robot could be among the first robots to signify a new era of "emotional machines" used for medical treatment and enjoyment, according to one of its inventors.

It has a beating heart which rises when the body is shaken, but slows down when treated calmly.

In addition, Heart's eyes flutter in response to touch.

David McGoran, of the University of the West of England, predicts the part-puppet, part-machine creation he helped develop is an example of how robots will increasingly adopt human characteristics.

Ethical questions

"Right now we're seeing the first implementations in toys," he told BBC News. "There are little robotic dinosaurs. There's a new robotic toy from the film Wall-E that's coming out, and that's a very expressive robot."

Nevertheless he believes there could be major implications for social care, with research already taking place into giving elderly care homes robots that express emotions.

Woman looking at 'ic Hexapod'
The 'ic Hexapod' tracks human faces and takes photos.

"This raises really interesting social and ethical questions," said Mr McGoran.

He added that there could be many benefits, particularly for people taking medical treatment. "If (scientists) can put this natural interface into robots then it would be much easier for us to relate to (robots)."

The Heart Robot is on display alongside a face-tracking insect-like robot.

The "ic Hexapod" by Micromagic Systems has been programmed to recognise human facial features and follow people as they move around.

Like the Heart Robot, it is billed as an example of the increasingly sophisticated ways in which machines are able to recognise and mimic human behaviour.

Both robots are being displayed at the London Science Museum until July 31st.

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