Professor Sarkar featured in National Geographic article on new generation of robots

Nilanjan Sarkar

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering is featured in an article “Us. And them. Robots are being created that can think, act, and relate to humans. Are we ready?” that appeared in the August 2011 issue of National Geographic.

[Other robots are making tentative forays into the treacherous terrain of human mental states and emotions. Nilanjan Sarkar of Vanderbilt University and his former colleague Wendy Stone, now of the University of Washington, developed a prototype robotic system that plays a simple ball game with autistic children. The robot monitors a child’s emotions by measuring minute changes in heartbeat, sweating, gaze, and other physiological signs, and when it senses boredom or aggravation, it changes the game until the signals indicate the child is having fun again. The system is not sophisticated enough yet for the complex linguistic and physical interplay of actual therapy. But it represents a first step toward replicating one of the benchmarks of humanity: knowing that others have thoughts and feelings, and adjusting your behavior in response to them.]

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