Meet PLEA, the robot which can sense your emotions

Ever had a robot smile at you? Visit the latest exhibition that is part of Leicester’s Art AI Festival and you just might.

PLEA is a biomimicking robot which ‘reads’ a series of social signals that make up its immediate environment such as sounds, your facial emotions, tones of voice, to try to determine how people who interact with it are feeling and it then responds appropriately.

plea robot

It has been set up in Leicester’s Central Library where it will remain until 13 September. It has been designed by Tomislav Stipanvcic of the University of Zagreb in Croatia and has been ‘taught’ using training data that it meant to help it recognise people’s emotions when it ‘sees’ them.

“PLEA is absolutely state of the art,” explains Professor Tracy Harwood of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Institute of Creative Technologies, who organises the Art AI Festival across the city. She brings AI artists together from all around the world to showcase some of the most cutting-edge work in the AI world.

“It uses information from its environment, and it senses what’s going on around it by listening. So if it hears things it makes assumptions about how that person is feeling – stressed, worried, happy, laughing.

“PLEA is almost in the uncanny valley – is it responding to you or are you responding to it?”

The robot’s face has been 3D printed, appearing using a projector housed inside. The robot is connected to the computer laboratory back in Croatia, where the data is assimilated and responded to.

Once the exhibition in Leicester has finished, Professor Harwood will work with the team at the University of Zagreb to assess how the robot could be used as a care robot, supporting people who are on their own or in a care setting.

The Art AI Festival has been providing a series of exciting AI-based exhibitions and installations across the city centre. People can see Masked Reality in the Haymarket which mixes the viewer’s face with a Keralan mask.

And at LCB Depot and Green Dragon Square, people can see Hexells, created by Alexander Mordvintsev - the man who created the Google Deep Dream programme. The artwork is a constantly-changing pattern of cellular structures and people can create their own artistic patterns by connecting to it via their phone, following instructions on the posters at the installation.

Now in its third year, the festival features installations, performances and activities taking place across the city and online – including the chance for people to ‘talk’ to some of Leicester’s most famous landmarks through an interactive walking trail called Hello Lamp Post. Maps for all the talking statues and the installations can be found in the Visit Leicester Information Centre at the King Richard III Visitor Centre.

Art AI Festival is a partnership between the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University, Phoenix, Leicester City Council, Highcross and independent creative AI curator Luba Elliott with additional support from Arts Council England, and this year runs over an extended period from May to March 2022. Get ready to see artworks located around the city centre, including at LCB Depot, Haymarket, Phoenix and more.


The idea of the ‘uncanny valley’ and how people feel about artificial intelligences that look human but are just not quite right is explored in one of the activities in a new downloadable playbook produced for this year’s Art AI Festival.

The playbook is aimed at families and has a whole host of activities on three different themes which link to this year’s interactive installations and events – faces, patterns and words.

It’s written for children aged eight to 10, led by a parent, guardian or teacher. Some of the activities are online and some just need pen and paper – and your imagination

The Art AI Playbook can be downloaded FREE here (HYPERLINK) and has been produced by SideFest, a Leicester gaming events organization that runs community STEM events for families including the city’s ever popular Create-A-Con.

You can follow the festival on social media: Twitter @ArtAIFestival Instagram @ArtAIFestLeics YouTube and FB
Posted on Monday 23rd August 2021

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