Shimi Musical Robot Unveiled at Google I/O

This musical companion robot wants to be your personal DJ

2 min read
Shimi Musical Robot Unveiled at Google I/O

TovBot Shimi musical robot

We know Google loves robots. And we're not talking about Android. We mean real robots such as self-driving cars, cloud-based robots, and others that presumably remain under wraps. So it's not a surprise that Google invited a bunch of robots to its developers conference this week. One of them is Shimi, a smartphone-enabled musical robot developed at Georgia Tech and unveiled today at Google I/O.

Shimi is basically an interactive robotic speaker. You dock your smartphone on the bot, and it will not only play your songs but also recommend tracks and dance to the beat. It reminds me a bit of other speaker-robot hybrids like the OLogic AMP musical robot or the TOSY "Bieber Bot" shown at CES. At Google I/O, three Shimi bots performed together:

Using the phone's camera and image recognition software, Shimi can track a user around a room and position its speakers for optimal sound. And if you tap or clap a beat, Shimi will search your musical library for tracks that match the rhythm.

The robot was developed by a team led by Professor Gil Weinberg, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology. Weinberg and his colleagues plan to commercialize Shimi through a new startup company, Tovbot, based in Atlanta.

Future improvements include making the robot able to recognize gestures: shake your head when you dislike a sound or wave your hand in the air to skip tracks or change the volume. Tovbot also wants to allow developers to create new behaviors for the robot using an API.

The company hopes to make the robot available to consumers by the 2013 holiday season at a price ranging from US $100 to $200. What you think? Would you buy one? 

Here's another video showing how the robot works:

[ Georgia Tech ] and [ Tovbot ]

Image and videos: Georgia Tech/Tovbot

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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