Commercial products like the Aibo still have some way to go before they have the quasi-human capacities of 'Robbie', the child-caring robot envisaged by Asimovin one of his earliest short-stories, but the technology is moving fast. Scientists around the world are already beginning to develop the components for more advanced sociable robots, such as emotional recognition systems and emotional expression systems.
Emotions are vital to human interaction, so any robot that has to interact naturally with a human will need to be able to recognise human expressions of emotion and to express its own emotions in ways that humans can recognise. One of the pioneers in this area of research (which is known as 'affective computing') is Cynthia Breazeal, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has built an emotionally-expressive humanoid head called Kismet. Kismet has moveable eyelids, eyes and lips which allow him to make a variety of emotional expressions. When left alone, Kismet looks sad, but when he detects a human face he smiles, inviting attention. If the carer moves too fast, a look of fear warns that something is wrong. Human parents who play with Kismet cannot help but respond sympathetically to these simple forms of emotional behaviour.
Another emotionally-expressive robot called WE-4R has been built by Atsuo Takanishi and colleagues at Waseda University in Japan. Whereas Kismet is limited to facial expressions and head movements, WE-4R can also move its torso and wave its arms around to express its emotions.