"I, Boy Robot"

>Not wanting to build another boring animatronic machine, students at Carnegie Mellon instead created Quasi, a tiny (76-centimeter-tall) robot with the personality of a 12-year-old boy. In our July feature, "Heart of a New Machine" author Kim Krieger, a science writer based in Washington, D.C., tells us that, while other bots are designed for utilitarian purposes, Quasi's entire reason for being is to be charming—or insolent or any other manner of adolescent personality traits.

Quasi was originally created to greet visitors to the university's Entertainment Technology Center by interacting with those who ventured close enough to attract the little robot's interest (through motion detectors and infrared sensors). He would then engage them with small talk and offerings of candy (via a video camera and facial-tracking software). And thanks to his human-like body language and robot-only features, he could be quite expressive in conveying a range of emotional responses.

Quasi's "moods" are conveyed chiefly through the changing colors of his light-emitting-diode (LED) "eyes." They shift from green for happy, to blue for sad, to red for angry, to yellow for confused, and to purple-pink for embarrassed. His head, antennas, hands, and posture also serve to communicate a sense of human moodiness, if you will. These are controlled by special software that models behavior based on external input (using a finite-state machine).

In turn, Quasi's moods can vary in intensity, just like the 12-year-old real thing. If Quasi plays a game of tic-tac-toe with a visitor and repeatedly loses, the robot's state shifts to anger: its antennae lie back and its eyes glow red. Much like the real thing, too, though, this state will not last for long, as the boy bot eventually becomes distracted after a few minutes by competing input and returns to playful activity.

Krieger informs us that Quasi got a big break in Tinseltown last year, when he was a hit at the big SIGGRAPH-sponsored Emerging Technologies Conference, in Los Angeles. There, he showed off his impressive ability to do impersonations of other, celebrity robots and human-robot characters, such as Star Wars stalwarts C-3PO and Darth Vader. "Luke, I am your father," he can proclaim in a deep voice.

This attention garnered an invitation for his creators, who have now formed a start-up called Interbots, in Pittsburgh, to develop—you guessed it—an animatronic character for PNC Park, home of the National League Pirates (and site of tonight's Major League Baseball All-Star Game). So, we strongly urge them to keep in mind that professional baseball is nothing more than grown men playing a little boy's game—and keep the spirit of Quasi alive in the big, new, pirate robot.

Or else they won't get any Crackerjacks.


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