Myself and my eldest daughter went to the Bristol branch British Computer Society Christmas lecture lastnight. The subject was RoboThespian (see here for his creators).

RoboThespian is a humanoid robot and at first glance looks rather like the Terminator. However a closer look reveals a somewhat less intimidating robot. Indeed he is a charming, funny robot and his original role in life was to be a robotic presenter. His creators have sold him (well actually the various models of him – brothers?, sisters?, clones?) around the world to places like the Carnegie Science Center and the Eden Project. RoboThespian presents, emotes, sings, explains,and entertains and at first glance seems like a clever toy.

The real cleverness of RoboThespian is more subtle that his first appearence. Currently he has little embedded intelligence (but more of that later) but he has generated a lot of interest in other robotic research centres. RoboThespian is an excellent test bed for human-machine interaction. He expresses emotion through his eyes (2″ LCD screens in case you wondered) and the colour changes in his cheeks. His head is cleverly designed to be ‘friendly’ with big ears and smooth curves. He is quite humerous and bursts into song. The children in the audience last night were not the least intimidated by him and it was noticible that people, even the man controlling him, would talk to him directly just as if he were a real person. Push on his robotic limbs and he pushes (gently) back – ‘compliance’ we were told was the name for this. Most impressive is the natural, fast sweep and movement of his limbs just through comperssed air and eletro-mechanical actuators. This is very lifelike and it is easy to envisage strong, agile robots competing with humans for the abilty to handle complex, dexterous tasks in the next few decades.

As mentioned RoboThespian does not carry much embedded intelligence. He carries a main computer and a number of other embedded processors but his programming comes from an external control unit. His movements and interactions are pre-programmed so the current models are really meant to present a pre-set talk or speech. However his creators are now moving into adding more AI into him. Basic speech recognition is implemented as is colour recognition and object following. Fairly soon RoboThespian will be able interact with his audience so for example he will ask you for your name and if you tell him the colour of your jacket, shirt, etc., he will scan the audience to find you.

If you get the chance do go and see him!

by hostadmin on Dec 9, 2010 at 9:24 PM

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