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Japanese Robot Actroid Gets More Social, Has No Fear of Crowds

This android can handle interruptions, and talking with groups of people isn't a problem either

2 min read
Japanese Robot Actroid Gets More Social, Has No Fear of Crowds

Actroid-SIT, a lifelike robot from Japanese firm Kokoro, hasn't received as much attention as her cousin  Geminoid F, which happens to be a copy a real woman. But while Geminoid F is a teleoperated robot, Actroid-SIT can function autonomously, talking and gesturing while interacting with people. In fact, researchers have recently demonstrated how improvements to Actroid's behavior can make it look smarter and more expressive than your average android.

Actroid now makes eye contact and gestures in the direction of a person trying to speak to her, allowing it to adeptly handle crowds of people. To develop the new behavior, researchers from Nara Institute of Science and Technology studied how individuals and groups interacted with the robot. Based on their observations, they focused on two new features, which they call "interruptibility" and "motion parameterization," hoping to improve human-robot interaction.

The first feature lets Actroid-SIT to handle interruptions in a graceful way. In their human-robot interaction experiments, the researchers noted that interruptions occurred about 26 percent of the time. For example, the human switched topics or handed off the speaking role to someone else. The problem is that despite these interruptions, the robot would obliviously carry on until it finished its spiel. Not very socially elegant!

With the new “interruptibility” feature, the robot can immediately end its current topic and elegantly transition to the new response. Those few seconds count—people interacted significantly longer with the robot when it was interruptible.

Who are you gesturing to?
The researchers also tested Actroid-SIT with a "motion parameterization" system. This means that her 18 gestures, like “pointing” or “waving”, adapt to the location of the speaker, making the person feel like the robot is really paying attention to him or her.

So even though talking with the Actroid is still far from a natural conversation, the researchers say this improvement makes a big difference in how people perceive the robot. Participants called the android more friendly, sensitive, sophisticated, and warm when the new gesturing system was used, compared to a normal gesturing approach.

Take a look at this video to see how people react to her, and how Actroid now can handle even a mob of pesky schoolchildren. 

“A Gesture-Centric Android System for Multi-Party Human-Robot Interaction” by Yutaka Kondo, Kentaro Takemura, Jun Takamatsu, and Tsukasa Ogasawara of the Nara Institute of Science and Technology was presented early this month at the Human Robot Interaction 2013 conference in Tokyo.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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