Page last updated at 07:15 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 08:15 UK

Robot to create Facebook profile

Ibn Sina robot, IRML
The Ibn Sina robot will soon get a Facebook profile page

Facebook could soon be helping bridge the divide between humans and robots.

Researchers are giving a robot its own Facebook profile page to help foster meaningful relationships with people.

The page will be populated with interactions the robot has with people as well as photos of the time it spends in human company.

Its creators hope that embedding it in a social web will demonstrate that a sustainable friendship can grow up between man and machine.

Ancient scholar

The coupling of robot and social network is the idea of Dr Nikolaus Mavridis and co-researchers as they look into ways of overcoming the reluctance of people to stay in touch with robots.

While robots that can engage people have been produced before now, research suggests that humans lose interest - at most a few weeks after being introduced - as the behavioural repertoire of the machine is exhausted.

In a paper on the pre-print website server, the researchers say they want to find out if this can be thwarted by giving humans and robots a pool of shared memories and if they are part of the same social circle of friends.

The platform for exploring the problem is a robot that can recognise faces created by Dr Mavridis and colleagues from the Interactive Robots and Media Lab (IRML) at the University of the United Arab Emirates plus co-workers in Germany and Greece

The prototype is based on a PeopleBot machine from ActivRobots to which they have added a range finder, touch screen and stereo camera. The current prototype is called "Sarah" but when the project begins this will be swapped for a machine with the face of Islamic scholar Ibn Sina, aka Avicenna.

Under the hood the machine has three software modules to help it interact with people it meets at IRML. One module recognises the faces of real people or the images they place of themselves on Facebook.

It also has a language module so the machine can carry on real-time conversations and it will maintain a database of its friends and their social relationships based on information in Facebook. This social database will also keep its own Facebook profile up to date.

In a month-long trial, Dr Mavridis aims to let Ibn Sina wander around IRML talking to people it meets and trying to get to know those that it does not. When it meets anyone for the first time it will check on Facebook to see if they have a profile page and use what it finds there as the starting point for a conversation.

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