RoboBonobo: Giving Apes Control of Their Own Robot

A robotic bonobo armed with a water cannon under the control of real bonobos? One thing's for sure: no human is safe

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

RoboBonobo: Giving Apes Control of Their Own Robot

This is RoboBonobo. It's a robotic ape. It's got a water cannon on it, and it'll eventually be able to chase you around under the direct control of real bonobos wielding wireless keyboards and iPads. In other words, no human is safe. Anywhere. Ever.

The bonobos at Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa, have gotten comfortable communicating with humans through the use of sequences of visual lexigrams. The apes can take advantage of a vocabulary of nearly 400 different words (like "hello" or "tickle" or "burrito"), and their human caretakers are looking to expand the ways in which the bonobos are able to interact with humans and the outside world. The humans have already built a prototype for a robot that the bonobos will be able to control directly, using it to "play chase games or squirt guests with an on board water gun."

This project goes far beyond the robot, though. What Dr. Ken Schweller (a professor of computer science and psychology and chair of the Great Ape Trust) wants to do is develop a set of Internet-connected keyboards that the bonobos can carry around with them and use to communicate directly with humans. Humans, for their part, will be able to use an app that translates their speech directly to the symbols used by the bonobos, potentially opening up real-time two-way intelligent communication between you and another species.

RoboBonobo and Bonobo Chat are trying to raise $20,000 on Kickstarter; the funds will be used to "design, program, harden, and field-test the apps with bonobo testers and to connect them to robots and other external devices." That's a little bit unspecific for such a large sum of money (although we do know that the robot in the picture above will be getting a total redesign), but at least the $500 level reward is pretty awesome: you get to have a live Skype chat session with a bonobo, completely safe from rampaging RoboBonobos with water cannons.

[ RoboBonobo ]

Thanks Ken!

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