Robots developed in Plymouth to befriend sick children

Robots which have memories and can interact with children are being developed by the University of Plymouth as part of a European project.

The Now robots are being created as pets to interact and befriend children with long-term illnesses.

The University is one of eight institutions across Europe working on the 8.3m Euro project over four years.

The San Raffaele Hospital in Milan requested the development of the robots to comfort sick children.

"Suspend disbelief"

Dr Tony Belpaeme from the University of Plymouth said: "The original prototypes were going to be rather simple, in the sense that they were going to play simple games with the children.

"But after a while the robots will really be able to have full conversations with the children and talk about their condition.

"Children are very enthusiastic about robots - they have this willingness to suspend disbelief.

"They see a robot and they don't just see metal and plastic but they see a friend."

During the project the University of Plymouth will focus on developing robotic memory, the National Research Council of Italy will specialise in speech recognition, and the University of Hertfordshire will focus on emotion.

Robots are currently limited by the size of their on-board processors, which are incapable of forming 'memories' over an extended period of time.

But the Now robots will be connected to internet-based programmes to provide more power.

The San Raffaele Hospital will test the robots on young diabetic patients.

The project which is being funded by the European Commission will see the creation of 20 robots each weighing 4.3 kilos (9.48 pounds) and standing 58cm (22.83ins) tall.

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