Empathy Swarm

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Non anthropomorphic swarm robot behavior using emotion recognition reinforcement

© Katrin Hochschuh & Adam Donovan

Work in progress of a new artwork, which experiments with human-robot social interaction.

As an antithesis or extension to humanoid robots like famous “Sophia”, we want to show that non anthropomorphic robots can also learn and produce a feeling of empathy and compassion.

In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel already demonstrated with a simple animated film how easy it is for the observer’s brain to associate emotional attachment to inanimate objects and how our human brain is hard wired for compassion. Building up on these findings we transplant it from a digital to a physical phenomena by creating a swarm of robots that as a whole can adapt its behaviour and interacts with the observer’s emotional feedback.

We use emotion recognition via camera tracking and will devise social  tests with participants to develop formations, animations and behaviours thus the vocabulary of swarm expression. The end goal being that the machines derive compassionate responses using deep learning. Which begs the question is this then robotic empathy?

Empathy swarm is a 2 year project building up on these topics. We already completed two swarm agent prototypes and will produce 10 more robotic agents during our EMARE residency in Croatia in collaboration with Kontejner this summer. We will as well implement an emotion recognition algorithm and develop new compassionate behaviours with the help of community participation during the residency.  In 2019 we will then present an Empathy Swarm of 100 members at QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, Australia, synchronized with the start and as part of Robotronica, one of the world’s largest festivals on technology and science.



IMPAKT Interview: Katrin Hochschuh & Adam Donovan – Empathy Swarm

Exhibition ‘Device Art – Machines are not alone’ @ Museum of Contemporary Art (MSU) Zagreb

Documentation: Developing Empathy Swarm during EMARE residency with Kontejner

Performative Installation ‘Human Aspect – WRO MEDIA ART BIENNALE’ @ Grokowski Institute, Wroclaw



This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through
the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.


The work is coproduced at Kontejner within the framework of EMAP / EMARE and co-funded by Creative Europe.





  • Filed under: Digital Art