Io, Robot

Robots which listen, understand and entertain us

In most of the movies with robots as main characters, they are able to understand the human mind to best interact with mankind and, maybe, to feel emotions like us. Some international companies are working to make this kind of scene come true. RoboThespian, from Engineered Arts, was born for this purpose.

RoboThespian is the most known robot of the company. It has great communication skills, feature that allows it to be used in museums and science centers. It was born as a “robotic actor”, but now its main task is to talk with people, in an entertaining way. It is fascinating because of  the multitude of expressions that he can do, which can be different from one situation to another. RoboThespian has two little screens as eyes, so it can improve its eye contact with its interlocutor and follow the people in front of it. It is not able to do complex movements and mostly it can’t walk. It has a static position which allows it to be powered by a power source and to receive instructions from a tablet, used by an employee. RoboThespian costs £ 55,000 (about € 78,000) and everyone can buy it to amuse people, because this incredible robot talks and moves like a person does.

If you prefer to talk whit a more human face, SociBot, from Engineered Arts too, can maybe be better. It is not a true humanoid robot, but it’s a robotic head. It hasn’t the body, but only arms and head (it hasn’t arms in its mini version). It has a screen as its face, so it can have different aspects. We can change its characteristics too: we can modify its eyes colour, its skin colour, its mouth’s shape and much more. As RoboThespian do, SociBot is able to follow us with its eyes and, following Engineered Arts statements, it can track the position of more than 12 people at a time. It talks showing emotions, he can understand our expressions and redo them. For SociBot the price is   £ 14,500 (€ 20,500), with touch screen included. It is designed for shopping centres, airports, stations and all the science centers.


The next step?
It’s to combine the extraordinary abilities of RoboThespian and SociBot with a robot which could walk and do more movements. This robot already has its own name: Byrun.

“The ability to move like a human adds to our ability to communicate with humans” Engineered Arts says. With human expressions and movements, the result would be a perfect humanoid robot, like fictitious robots in lots of movies are. Nowadays, Byrun is able to do a lot of simple and difficult exercises, but the final goal, the robot that we dream, is still far away.

Learning to write with a robot: CoWriter


The CoWriter project aims to understand how a robot can help kids in learning of writing, with an original approach: the children become teachers that help the robot to write better.

The learning through teaching has several benefits: it increases the self-esteem of children (important for subjects with difficulties in writing) and learn without realizing it, involved in a particular interaction with the robot called Protégé effect. Children, in fact, feel in some way responsible if the robot fails to improve his writing skills, are committed to trying to understand what the robot is difficult.

Robot and children interact through a tablet: the child shows magnetic letters to the robot that writes the word on touch device. The child then corrects the incorrect letters with the stylus on the tablet. When the child is happy to go to the next word.



Principal Component Analysis

For its functions, the robot developed at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne  performs an algorithm known as Principal Component Analysis that automatically identifies the main differences in a data set of samples of letters. By manipulating the values of these differences, the robot can generate letters deliberately distorted or converging towards those shown by the child.

The complete source code for the robot teacher is based on a set of nodes ROS and is available on github.



Imparare a scrivere con un robot: ecco CoWriter


Il progetto CoWriter si propone l’obiettivo di capire come un robot possa aiutare i bambini nell’apprendimento della scrittura, con un approccio originale: i bambini diventano gli insegnanti che aiutano il robot a scrivere meglio.

L’apprendere tramite insegnamento ha diversi benefici: aumenta l’autostima dei bambini (importante per i bambini con difficoltà nella scrittura) e imparano senza accorgersene, coinvolti in una particolare interazione con il robot chiamata effetto Protégé. I bambini, infatti, si sentono in qualche modo responsabili se il robot non riesce a migliorare le sue capacità di scrittura, si impegnano per cercare di capire cosa il robot trova difficile.

Robot e bambini interagiscono attraverso un tablet: il bambino mostra lettere magnetiche al robot che scrive la parola sul dispositivo touch. Il bambino corregge poi le lettere errate con il pennino del tablet. Quando il bambino è soddisfatto si passa alla parola successiva.


Principal Component Analysis

Per le sue funzioni, il robot sviluppato all’École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne esegue un algoritmo noto come Principal Component Analysis che consente di identificare automaticamente le principali differenze all’interno di un set di dati di campioni di lettere. Manipolando i valori di tali differenze, il robot può generare lettere volutamente deformate o che convergono verso quelle mostrate dal bambino.

Il codice sorgente completo per il robot insegnante si basa su un set di nodi ROS ed è disponibile su github.

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