eNTERFACE’13 workshop proposal

My colleague Merijn Bruijnes and I will be organizing a workshop at eNTERFACE’13! At eNTERFACE, multidisciplinairy teams from all over the world work on a single project for a period of four weeks. The topic we proposed revolves around virtual agents and touch (i.e. wearable haptic interfaces). The full project proposal should be available from of early Februari. Below you will find our initial project description.

Touching Virtual Agents – Embodiment and Mind

Embodied conversational agents attempt to approximate human face-to-face communication. However, the tactile modality, which can have can have strong affective consequences in human-human communication, is often overlooked in communication with embodied conversational agents.

We propose a project that will focus on virtual conversational agents that will have the capability of physically touching the user. The general aim of the project will be to incorporate the tactile modality into interaction with virtual agents, through the use of wearable haptic interfaces. The addition of touch to the communicative repertoire of a virtual agent might enhance the agent’s expressivity. We will use cognitive mental models for human-human communication to generate appropriate touch behavior by the agent. For example when a user retells a painful personal experience, the embodied agent could offer a comforting pat on the shoulder, in combination with the appropriate facial expression and vocal utterance. This would be relevant for virtual and robotic agents in different scenarios, such as therapeutic settings, training, entertainment, and gaming.

We focus on virtual agents because current virtual agent platforms offer more flexibility than social robotics platforms. Moreover, an important part of the project is to explore different ways of tactile stimulation, which is more easily achieved trough wearable haptics than through robotic platforms. However, we feel the proposed direction would be highly relevant for those interested in human-robot interaction, because cognitive models for virtual agents and social robots are highly comparable. We would therefore like to invite participants from conversational agent, haptics, as well as HRI communities.