Thursday, January 7, 2010

Robovie-II and Robovie-IV: Robot Assistants for Store and Office

" 'Don't forget the milk' "
Shanghai Daily (January 7, 2010)

" 'Robovie-II', developed by Japanese robotics research institution ATR, roams a grocery store during a shopping assistance experiment in Kyoto, western Japan, yesterday. The robot greets the shopper at the entrance of the store, follows him to the shelves with a grocery basket and reminds him of the items on a shopping list, which...."

(From Shanghai Daily, used w/o permission)

Robovie-II is what ATR calls a communication robot. We're not at the "...I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations. And this is my counterpart R2D2...." (IMDB) point yet - but it looks like Robovie-II is getting close.

This video shows Robovie-II helping a lady with her grocery shopping. I don't know how much of Robovie-II's behavior is artificial intelligence, and how much was prompted by a human operator - but the implication is that we're looking at a helpful, fairly bright, and quite polite robot. I wouldn't mind having a helper like that myself, sometimes.

"Robovie-II grocery shopping assistant"

pinktentacle3, YouTube (December 15, 2009)
video, 2:39


ATR is Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, "...was founded in March 1986 with the support of various partners from industry, academia and government, aiming to promote basic and creative research activities in telecommunications and to contribute greatly to society...." ATR opened research facilities at Kansai Science City, or "Keihanna," in 1989. ("ATR is -," ATR website)

Just What is Robovie-II?

"Development and Evaluation of Communication robot, Robovie

"Our research aims to develop communication robot, Robovie[,] that naturally interact with humans and support daily human activities based on advanced interaction capabilities with their human-like bodies. Since the target audience of a communication robot, Robovie[,] is ordinary people who do not have specialized computing and engineering knowledge, a conversational interface using both verbal and non-verbal expressions is becoming more important."
("Takayuki KANDA," ATR)

If You Liked Robovie-II, You'll Love Robovie-IV, the Office Robot

ATR has a seven-page paper that tells about a test of Robovie IV in the ATR offices.

Soft touch skin and body
(from Intelligent Robotics and Communications Laboratories, used w/o permission)
Robovie IV in the office. A bit on the short side, but seems to like working with people. The "soft touch" title seems to refer to Robovie IV's sense of touch: not how willing he is to do favors for co-workers.

Future Plans
(from Intelligent Robotics and Communications Laboratories, used w/o permission)
"Through the accumulation of experimental research in our office as well as at a Science Museum, we are beginning to understand the communication features that necessary for a robot to easily participate in our society.
"So, in the near future, we will be able to create a robot that can support us in our daily life."

In 2006, when the report on Robovie-IV's internship in ATR's offices was published, Robovie-IV came across, to me, as the sort of co-worker who hangs around the water cooler, knows where everybody is, and likes to chat with people: striking up conversations by asking you if you like to watch baseball, for example.

You know the type: nice, likable, and doesn't seem to actually do much.

That's not fair, of course, because Robovie-IV wasn't given a real job, as far as I could tell. The report did suggest some possible tasks: like showing visitors to a particular person, or telling co-workers where someone was.

That could be quite useful: particularly in offices where one or two people aren't in the habit of showing up for meetings on time.

Then there are jobs like museum guide.

I think a major upgrade for Robovie-IV would be to give the poor little robot hands: real hands, with fingers. Not those mittens that Robovie-IV makes do with.

Related posts: More:
A tip of the hat to "Crazed grocery robot in lima bean bloodbath!," Oddly Enough blog, Reuters, for the heads-up on Robovie-II.

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