Affective Touch Interactions
One important and novel capability we are developing for the Huggable™ is its ability to participate in active relational and affective touch-based interactions with a person. Social-relational touch interactions play a particularly important role for companion animals in their ability to provide health benefits to people. Touch can convey a wide variety of communicative intents --- an animal can be tickled, petted, scratched, patted, rubbed, hugged, held in ones arms or lap just to name a few. To be effective, therapeudic robotic companions must also be able to understand and appropriately respond to how a person touches it --- e.g., communicating with the right kind of emotive expression or performing and appropriate touch response such as nuzzling.

We have carried out initial experiments to assess the ability of the skin and somatic perceptual algorithms to classify the affective content of touch. A neural network was implemented to recognize nine classes of affective touch - tickling, poking, scratching, slapping, petting, patting, rubbing, squeeze, and contact. Each of these classes were again combined into six response types - teasing pleasant, teasing painful, touch pleasant, touch painful, punishment light, and punishment painful. The response type defines how the Huggable™ interprets the intent of the touch and what behavior to perform in response. For example, a pleasant touch should signify a happy reaction while strong punishment should result in a pain response. Development continues...
Papers
Stiehl, W. & Breazeal, C. (2005), “Design of a Therapeutic Robotic Companion for Relational, Affective Touch.” In Proceedings of Fourteenth IEEE Workshop on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (Ro-Man-05), Nashville, TN. 408-415. Best paper Award.

Stiehl, W.D. & Breazeal, C. (2005) “Affective Touch for Robotic Companions.” Proceedings of Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction (ACII-05). Bejing, China.