Forget counting sheep, now robots can make us sleepy

An EMYS robot
An EMYS robot

EVERYONE knows that yawning can be contagious – but now it appears it can be passed from robots to humans too.

Volunteers who watched the EMYS android mimicking the sounds and signs of sleepiness found that they developed the urge to yawn.

The robot dropped its head, closed its eyes and opened its jaw as it let out a slow artificial noise.

And the discovery at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, could help scientists design androids to help around the home.

Assistant Professor Dr Frank Broz, who carried out the research with psychologist Dr Hagen Lehmann, said: “We have a robot here who has a head and a simplified face that can make expressions and has a movable jaw, and so we programmed yawning behaviour and accompanying sound with it.”

Dr Broz said the sample of 34 volunteers – more than half female – revealed “a statistically significant” urge to yawn after watching the robot do the same.

“There did seem to be an effect, a very promising preliminary result.”

Dr Broz added: “We are particularly excited about this finding. It could be used to improve the naturalness of interaction between robots and humans.”