First dates could become much less stressful and awkward – thanks to a Blade Runner-style emotion detector that can tell if a person has the hots for you.

The pioneering device is inspired by the Voight-Kampff machine featured in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi thriller starring Harrison Ford an Seann Young.

In the film, the polygraph-like interrogation tool is used by police to determine if someone is an android by provoking emotional responses.

The fictional gadget measures blush response, respiration, heart rate and eye movement in response to questions dealing with empathy.

And the new machine bears notable similarities to the emotion detector.

Designed by researchers at Lancaster University, it includes an ear-piece which measures skin and heart rate responses, as well as pupil-dilation measure.

It is set against an online dating backdrop and has been designed, in theory, to pick up on love and sincerity at first sight or sound.

Neat, bright and compact, it clips onto a smartphone or tablet.

However, the plausibly real device is, at this stage, still pure fiction and, while creating it has sparked imaginative design skills, it has been built to convey a serious message.

The design team – which includes the Centre for Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London (UCL) – insists it has been built created to convey a serious message.

They want people to think about the ethical implications of a world where computers are used to monitor, or even manipulate, people’s emotions.

Designers at Lancaster are now researching technologies for the machine.

The research team yesterday presented a paper in San Jose at CHI, the world’s leading conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Team leader Professor Paul Coulton, Lancaster University’s design fiction expert, hailed the potential of the device, which he says is attracting a lot of attention.

He said: “This machine looks and feels very real and has even prompted a film-making company in the States to request filming us manufacturing the device.

“But this is actually a tool for creating some pretty serious discussions.”

Design fiction is, in broad terms, speculative design which heralds what might come about in the future world of human computer interaction, says Professor Coulton.

“The factor that differentiates and distinguishes design fiction from other approaches is its novel use of ‘world building’ and, in this paper, we consider whether there is value in creating fictional research worlds through which we might consider future interactions.”

“As an example, we built this world in which rules for detecting empathy will become a major component of future communications.

“We take inspiration from the sci-fi film, Blade Runner, to consider what a plausible world, in which it is useful to build a Voight-Kampff machine, might be like.

“People are working towards this kind of thing.

“What we are doing is questioning whether it has a place in our society – what kind of uses they have and what the world would actually be like with them.

“We want people to think about the ethical implications of what we do. Technically a lot of this is possible but is it actually what we want?”