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TED Roundup: Heather Knight and Cynthia Breazeal Talk Robot Comedy and Interactivity

Watch these two TED Talks from robot researchers Heather Knight and Cynthia Breazeal, on interactive robot comedy and why we don't have robots in our homes yet

1 min read
Heather Knight with Nao robot during TED performance
Image: TED via YouTube

There have been a couple interesting TED Talks on robots recently featuring robots (and their human researchers). This first talk is from Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot Labs, who programmed a Nao to not just tell jokes, but actually pay attention to whether the audience was laughing and then adapt its comedy routine on the fly:

The other talk is by Cynthia Breazeal, from MIT's Personal Robotics Group. She talks about her past research and where she sees the future of interactive robots. If for no other reason, it's worth watching for a priceless Cookie Monster moment:

It's interesting how Cynthia discusses her research history in terms of robots like Leonardo, which are autonomous, versus telepresence-type robots. I’m not sure what (if anything) to make of that, and while I tend to agree that at least commercially, telepresence probably has a stronger immediate market than autonomy (especially emotional autonomy) at its current stage of development, I’d still love to see more of Leonardo.

It’s also interesting just how much of a difference presence makes when it comes to humans interacting with technology, and how even a subtle anthropomorphic design can inspire emotional attachment. Autom, in particular, is a good example of how the way to get people to bond with robots is not to try to make them as humanoid as possible, but just to make them slightly familiar, and we humans can fill in all the blanks with no problems.

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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
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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
DarkGray

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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