Robots are increasingly capable of co-existing with human beings in the places where we live and work. I believe, however, for robots to collaborate and assist human beings in their daily lives, new methods are required for enhancing human-robot communication. In this dissertation, I focus on how a robot can acquire and refine expressive and receptive communication skills with human beings. I hypothesize that communication has its roots in motor behavior and present an approach that is unique in the following aspects: (1) representations of humans and the skills for interacting with them are learned in the same way as the robot learns to interact with other “objects,” (2) expressive behavior naturally emerges as the result of the robot discovering new utility in existing manual behavior in a social context, and (3) symmetry in communicative behavior can be exploited to bootstrap the learning of receptive behavior.

Experiments have been designed to evaluate the approach: (1) as a computational framework for learning increasingly comprehensive models and behavior for communicating with human beings and, (2) from a human-robot interaction perspective that can adapt to a variety of human behavior. Results from these studies illustrate that the robot successfully acquired a variety of expressive pointing gestures using multiple limbs and eye gaze, and the perceptual skills with which to recognize and respond to similar gestures from humans. Due to variations in human reactions over the training subjects, the robot developed a preference for certain gestures over others. These results support the experimental hypotheses and offer insights for extensions of the computation framework and experimental designs for future studies.

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