Gestures improve human-robot communication

When gestures are used in conjunction with speech, it is known as "multi-modal communication."
By Brooks Hays   |   April 4, 2016 at 12:13 PM

BRISTOL, England, April 4 (UPI) -- Without gestures and facial expressions, lines of communication sometimes break down, meaning context and tone get lost in translation.

New research suggests gestures can even help robots express themselves more effectively.

Avatars are robots, both tangible and virtual, that replicate the speech and movements of a human controller. They are being increasingly employed around in the world -- whether in a business meeting or virtual reality game, whether for the purposes of telecommunications, marketing, tourism or psychotherapy.

In an effort to make avatars more understandable, scientists tested the benefits of iconic gesturing -- simple hand gestures that symbolize an object or action, like opening a book or door. When such gestures are used in conjunction with speech, it is known as "multi-modal communication."

Study participants witnessed both a human actor and avatar reading a variety of phrases while performing relevant hand gestures. Afterward, participants were tested on what they had just seen and heard. Results showed viewers were able to comprehend the avatar just as well as the human.

In future studies, researchers plan to explore new and different styles of gestures. They also aim to experiment with the gestures and languages of other cultures, including Italian culture -- famous for elaborate hand gesturing.

The latest research was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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