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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Sciences Note/Sensitive Robots

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a robot that can sense human stress.


CURWOOD: Coming up, designing fishing nets that let some of the big ones get away. First, this environmental science note from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Researchers at Vanderbilt University have designed a robot that can pick up human stress levels. Instead of using visual or vocal cues that humans rely on to gauge each other’s moods, researchers programmed their robots to analyze physiological data. First, they outfitted human subjects with a variety of sensors, then asked people to play a progressively difficult video game and recorded measurements from each sensor.

Early in the game researchers established, what they called, a baseline of boredom in which the subject was relatively stress-free. They then determined a threshold at which a subject became stressed. They programmed this information into the robot and fed it a continuous stream of sensor readings as it moved randomly around the room. When the robot detected readings above the stress threshold it would come to a halt and say:

MALE: I sense a high level of anxiety. I am coming to you for help.

CHU: That’s one of the researchers recruited as the voice of the robot. Scientists believe a robot able to sense human emotion would be helpful in detecting anything from an injured soldier on the battlefield to a bored or restless patron at a museum and come to the rescue.

And that’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Stevie Ray Vaughn “Lenny” Texas Flood Epic (1983)]



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