ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronEye IconIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintTitle ChevronIcon Twitter
Technology

Zara the AI supergirl interacts by reading emotions

HONG KONG -- In the age of artificial intelligence, robots are becoming more empathetic to human feelings -- and in multiple languages, too.

Professor Pascale Fung of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, pictured here, and her research team have developed an emotion-recognizing AI robot, Zara the Supergirl, seen on the computer screen.

     To realize their dream of holding a natural conversation with a robot, a team of university researchers in Hong Kong have unveiled a new emotion-recognizing AI technology as part of scientific efforts to make human-robot interactions on a par with human-to-human communication.

     Professor Pascale Fung and a team of computer engineering scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have developed a cloud-based prototype machine, named "Zara the Supergirl," that can chat with people.

     Zara, a cute female character on a computer screen, starts off a conversation by asking for information. "What is your earliest memory?" "Tell me about your mother." By analyzing images of users' appearances captured via a web camera, Zara can determine some of their personal attributes, such as gender and ethnicity, and choose one of two programmed languages, either Mandarin or English, to talk with them. 

     It takes about five minutes for Zara to grasp human personality traits, and based on them, she gradually deepens her understanding of a person through various conversations. Surprisingly, she can even crack some simple jokes.

Building a better communicator

Robotics technology is becoming very advanced, however, professor Fung said, "Every robot should have an individual personality in order to communicate better. It is not an ATM machine. In communication, empathy is very important to build a relationship based on trust."

     Zara is capable of analyzing people's facial expressions and their tone of voice so that she can tailor her conversations to her users. In addition to Chinese and English, Fung and her team are looking to add French to Zara's repertoire of languages. A multilingual emotion-recognition AI robot is "very rare in the world," Fung said.

     She unveiled her invention at the annual summer meeting of the World Economic Forum in Dalian, in northeastern China, in September last year. A number of offers for commercializing Zara have come in from businesses and investors, she said.

     Zara is still in the cloud today, but Fung aims to "give her real physical body within two years." The professor is also looking to promote industry-university collaboration in the robotics field.

     Humanoid robots, such as SoftBank Group's Pepper and Erica, a female android developed by Osaka University and other research institutions, have recently grabbed much media attention in Japan.

     Given the projected growth in the humanoid robot market going forward, Fung and her research team are facing the need to establish a practical AI robot technology to set Zara apart from the rest of the pack. To that end, Fung said one of their goals is to create emotions-reading robots that can take care of elderly people and children.

 

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends October 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more