Attention capability is an essential component of human–robot interaction. Several robot attention models have been proposed which aim to enable a robot to identify the attentiveness of the humans with which it communicates and gives them its attention accordingly. However, previous proposed models are often susceptible to noisy observations and result in the robot’s frequent and undesired shifts in attention. Furthermore, most approaches have difficulty adapting to change in the number of participants. To address these limitations, a novel attentiveness determination algorithm is proposed for determining the most attentive person, as well as prioritizing people based on attentiveness. The proposed algorithm, which is based on relevance theory, is named the Scalable Hidden Markov Model (Scalable HMM). The Scalable HMM allows effective computation and contributes an adaptation approach for human attentiveness; unlike conventional HMMs, Scalable HMM has a scalable number of states and observations and online adaptability for state transition probabilities, in terms of changes in the current number of states, i.e., the number of participants in a robot’s view. The proposed approach was successfully tested on image sequences (7567 frames) of individuals exhibiting a variety of actions (speaking, walking, turning head, and entering or leaving a robot’s view). From these experimental results, Scalable HMM showed a detection rate of 76% in determining the most attentive person and over 75% in prioritizing people’s attention with variation in the number of participants. Compared to recent attention approaches, Scalable HMM’s performance in people attention prioritization presents an approximately 20% improvement.
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