Anakin Skywalker's humanoid robot C3-PO has been a companion of Star Wars characters since the beginning of the franchise and is quite endearing, despite rambling all the time and being fearful.

In real life, humanoid robots have yet to achieve the same level of consciousness that C3-PO has, but they are still quite helpful.

In fact, a new study in London revealed that a computer avatar or a humanoid robot may help treat people diagnosed with social disorders such as social phobia and schizophrenia. It's all thanks to an idea known as the "theory of similarity."

A Reflection Of Your Alter Ego

The theory of similarity suggests that people find it easier to interact socially with someone or something that looks, moves and behaves like ourselves.

With this in mind, a group of scientists from different universities -- Bristol, Exeter, Montpellier and Naples Federico II -- developed a system to allow a robot or a computer avatar to interact with a person while at the same time, playing a version of the "mirror" game.

Two players in this game try to mimic each other's motions and play with colored balls that move straight on a string.

Researchers say the computer avatar is like an alter ego, created to move and look like the patient to boost their feelings of attachment. Over time, the computer avatar is slowly changed to become less similar. This will help social rehabilitation.

The study's results reveal that those who are playing with avatars that possess similar movement features coordinate and interact better.

In order to embed the computer avatar with enough intelligence to match and respond to the motion of the human player, researchers applied the principles of feedback control theory and dynamical systems.

Professor Mario di Bernardo, from the engineering mathematics department at University of Bristol, said building an avatar that is intelligent enough to coordinate its motions with humans is quite challenging.

"But our initial results are very exciting," added di Bernardo.

What's next for the research team? Developers plan to build on the tech and create multiple human-machine interaction for social rehabilitation. They also wish to make groups of people and avatars to interact to perform joint tasks together.

The study is available in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

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