Laughing virtual agents will be high on the agenda of interaction research this summer, with a project on designing a "laugh machine" to be developed at the 2012 edition of eNTERFACE summer workshops (July 2-27, 2012, Metz, France). The plan is to put together a first prototype virtual interactive buddy that will share fun with you, in particular while watching funny video clips and situations. Research will focus on how to make sense in real-time of context from the videos, and of emotional reactions from the person watching them, in order to produce more natural behavior.
The integrated system will serve as a platform to experiment on important features, to make sure that the agent's laughs are not misperceived by the user (e.g., malicious or malevolent laughs) and paying attention to the "uncanny valley": the discomfort caused by an automated agent that reproduces very closely, but imperfectly (e.g. bad timing, disproportionate response), human behaviours.
The work is supported by the ILHAIRE project. The project partners will provide the core components of the system, but are also looking forward to meet with other participants that may provide additional components that could be integrated during the workshop, or wish to experiments with laughter-enabled virtual agents.
About eNTERFACE and ILHAIRE
eNTERFACE is a yearly summer school on Multimodal Interfaces. The first edition was held at the University of Mons (Belgium) in 2005. Since then, it was hosted in Dubrovnik (Croatia), Istanbul (Turkey), Paris (France), Genoa (Italy), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Plzen (Czech Republic). Each edition gathers 50 to 100 participants working on around 10 different projects. The workshop lasts 4 weeks, which enables fruitful collaboration between the teams: researchers do not attend eNTERFACE only to present their work and learn about others' but to carry out multimodal projects. Deliverables (experimental results, software, etc. ) are expected at the end of the workshop. eNTERFACE projects outcomes are reported in the workshop proceedings and frequently lead to conference or journal papers. The 2012 edition of the workshop will be organized by SUPELEC in Metz (France) from July 2nd to July 27th.
The ILHAIRE project was indeed born at eNTERFACE'09 in Genoa: the successful collaboration between UMONS, CNRS and UAU on the AVLaughterCycle project fostered our interest in working together on laughter and extending the scope of our works in a larger project gathering experts in several disciplines related to laughter processing. A few years later, the ILHAIRE project was born.
Belfast was the venue for ILHAIRE’S first motion-capture data gathering session on 13th – 15th March, 2012. The focus of this exercise was to generate full body motion information associated with different types of laughter, as well as capturing the laughter audio events. Members from several project institutions came together for the event. The three-day session (1 day of preparation and 2 days of data capture) involved a number of activities specially designed to induce laughter. These included reading aloud tongue twisters, playing Wii games, party games, and other laughter-inducing activities. The success of the event was evidenced by the almost non-stop laughter that was expressed throughout the sessions, even when we were not gathering data.
Each session lasted 2-3 hours, a pair of friends participated in each session. The fact that they were friends turns out to be important; as one is more likely to be comfortable with laughing the presence of a friend than when with a stranger. Interestingly, much of the most useful laughter behaviour recorded occurred when the participants were not the direct focus of attention; for example when they observed others doing the laughter-inducing tasks. Another lesson we have taken from this exercise is the importance of having a strong social presence and a relaxed atmosphere.
The Belfast team are now in the process of cleaning, synchronising and annotating the audio, video and motion-capture data. Some of the data are already becoming available to other project members. In the future the data will be made more broadly available as part of the ILHAIRE laughter database.
One of the strengths of the ILHAIRE project is that it is inter-disciplinary with 9 partners spread across 6 European countries. Although this significantly broadens the knowledge base of the project, it also throws up some challenges to ensure that knowledge is disseminated to all partners. This was the aim of the knowledge transfer meeting on the 11th and 12th of January in Zurich, hosted by the University of Zurich, department of psychology.
The meeting allowed for each of the work package leaders to share information about their own area of expertise and to show how this fit to meeting the objectives of the ILHAIRE project. As the majority of partners had worked together on the previous FP7 projects, this time also allowed the new members to join in discussion, which passed on the knowledge gained from previous projects too. As the meeting was well represented at all levels, it was mutually beneficial for all.
The highly productive first day started at 8am and after the morning coffee and a discussion of points raised from the Genoa meeting, Willibald Ruch led a presentation on the psychology of laughter, explaining the origin and physiology of laughter. Harry Griffin gave an update on the progress made at University Colleague London, and who brought film clips of actors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts performing different laughter. Following lunch, Gary McKeown held a talk on the database of different laughter with annotation and technical issues being discussed. A change in schedule next had a tutorial on the Facial Action Coding System and how this can be applied to the study of laughter. This session also dealt with responding to the many questions that arose in the first talk of the morning. The engaging talks lasted well into the evening, finishing with an interesting and informative workshop hosted by the University of Ausburg team, Florian Lingenfelser and Johannes Wagner on behalf of Elisabeth Andre demonstrating the technical abilities of the Social Signal Interpretation tool.
Day two brought talks and discussion lead by Thierry Dutoit, Olivier Pietquin, Elisabeth Andre, Laurent Ach in the morning sessions and Catherine Pelachaud, Willibald Ruch and an open board meeting finishing off the afternoon where Stéphane Dupont chaired a discussion and introduced Titanpad- a way of enabling the documenting of ILHAIRE meetings in real time, as well as a new WIKI format.