Besides the trade shows and Japan, the ‘DARPA Challenges’, from the USA, are also nice to watch. There you see robots performing in various dream scenarios. And you also get to see them fall and fail in conditions that resemble the real world (a kind of challenging track with asignments).
The DARPA Challenge 2015 (Motherboard)
Interestingly, the South Korean team of KAIST won the grand prize of two million dollars.
Besides visiting trade shows , visiting Japan is also worthwhile to keep up with developments in robotics. Not fond of flying or short on budget? The internet helps!
Here is a nice filmpje by Motherboard with a travel report from Japan. The makers searched for ‘Robot hotels’ and also spoke to people actually spending the night there.
Inside the Japanese Hotel Staffed by Robots (by Motherboard)
By far the most interesting I found the reactions of the actual users at the end of the movie. I believe these reactions show that the Japanese are not that different from other people when it comes to robots. These reactions could easily have come from a group of Dutch people.
It is good to visit trade shows on robotics. It gives you a good overview of the possibilities and the most important main stream developments in the industry.
Here is a recent clip from ‘Automate 2015′. It is fairly long, but I believe it provides a very nice overview of where the markets and the industry are at the moment. These are the things where people in robotics earn a living on, now and for the next five years or so. The Automate Show is held every two year in Michigan (US).
In the Netherlands there is a similar event every year, that I highly recommend: The Vision & Robotics trade show in Veldhoven. This year on June 1 en 2.
Er is een robot in de maak, in de US bij Stanford in de buurt, genaamd Veebot, die in de toekomst het bloed prikken grotendeels moet gaan automatiseren en de verpleegkundige moet ondersteunen bij het proces. Het idee is dat hierdoor bij het proces minder fout gaat, patiënten minder kans op schade hebben en de bijbehorende kosten daarmee dalen. Wat het apparaat zelf zou moeten gaan kosten is nog niet duidelijk. Het bedrijfje zelf, Veebot LCC, presenteert zijn ideeën wel op hun website maar treedt niet in details: http://www.veebot.com/
Here is a video report from PandoList about Veebot, from may 2012.
A European Social Robotics project called CHRIS (Cooperative Human Robot Interaction Systems FP7 215805) has received its final review last april. They have also created a very nice video that summarizes their work:
As the video shows, the work is about safe cooperation and it includes the recognition of gesture (pointing), speech, actions, and objects. It is quite interesting to see the capabilities of a 18 month old human child compared to what a robot can do (not much). Perhaps that is due to the fact that kids never worry about hurting their parents. They just go for it, and their mother will let them know when they are doing something they should not. That is a pwerful learning strategy.
I think the CHRIS video shows nicely what Humanoid robots can and can not be expected to be able to do. Most robots will not be able to do everything the iCub or Bert2 can do. CHRIS is at the cutting edge.
Size. With robots, does size matter? One might say size matters little if it works well and performs the job it was designed to do. From an engineering perspective one might even add ‘the smaller the better’ or ‘the cheaper the better’. But from a psychological perspective it may be very important how big a robot is. In the social interaction with humans a big robot may function differently than a small one. Big impresses, big attracts attention, big frightens. Small endears, small puts at ease. Those are just some associations that we should think about studying closer.
An interesting ongoing experiment with size is the work of Hajime Sakamoto and his Hajime Research Institute (a Japanese company building humanoid robots). He plans to build larger and larger robots that can walk on two feet, eventually ending up with a ´Gundam´ robot that can seat a human (co)pilot, as featured in the famous SF-cartoons (of which Hajime is a fan). A fairly recent prototype can be seen in the following movie:
Another nice example of the effect of a big robot size is the fake robot Titan, see the movie below. He attracts a lot of attention, and scares people a little, but also puts them at ease quickly by using humour.
The very small robots, like Keepon, are perhaps relying partly on their smallness to endear people and to easily establish contact with people. An interesting thought experiment is to imagine a really big Keepon, say 1.50m, trying to interact with a five year old autistic boy. Do you think it will be just as succesful as the small one? I do not think so. Or imagine a 2m Paro robot ‘baby’ seal. Hmmm, that might actually have an effect similar to that of those giant teddy bears you can win at fairs. Holding them in your lap would be difficult though.
Here is an interesting new robotic surgery assistant: the ARTAS™ System. It was recently cleared by the FDA (read more). ARTAS apparently helps with something called ‘hair follicle harvesting’, according to Restoration Robotics, the company that invented and produces the system.
The ARTAS System (Source: Restoration Robotics, Inc.)
The procedure is as follows. The client first sits in the Artas chair, and then his hair is millimetered. Then, a robotic arm equipped with a camera initiates ‘small dermal punches’ and harvests individual follicles. This is under the control of a doctor. The follicles, which are later transplanted by hand, will start producing their own hair over months.
Here is a paper (PDF) in the Dermatology Times that reports the results of trying out a prototype of the device. Apparently, no sutures or bandages were required and using ARTAS is quicker and less invasive than other hair transplantation techniques, like strip harvesting where a strip of skin with hair is transplanted to a balding area. The company expects to reach extraction rates to 750 to 1,000 follicular units per hour. In addition, it may require fewer staff (although robot support engineers should probably be on standby).
A very interesting, ‘social robotics’ study recently gave us all some nice resultats. Apparently people do not always appreciate being touched by a robot.
Somewhat surprisingly the results from one of the experiments showed that it matters why the robot touches you. If people think (because they are told) that it is because they will be washed then that is okay, but if the robot touched someone to comfort them then they found it much less agreeable, even though the touch movement was exactly the same. Apparently instrumental touching is more acceptable than social touching. And the perceived intention is what matters, according to one the researchers, Charlie Kemp. However, if you compare this result to the positive responses generally reported with the huggable robot Paro, then I think that this result may depend to a large extent on the actual appearance and exact behaviour of the robot. In this case the apperance and behaviour of the robot, Cody, may have created a mismatch with an intention to provide a comforting touch. In other words, the robot does not look like or act like it is designed to provide a comforting touch, it looks like it is designed to clean people (which is exactly what it was designed for).
In addition, the results showed that people did not like it if the robot announced that it was going to touch them, perhaps, as indicated by the researchers, because the voice startled them. Here, I think it is very important how a robot speaks exactly. If it speaks with a moving mouth and facial gestures, then this comes across as if the voice is coming from the robot. If a robot has a face and mouth that are able to ‘speak’ then people may actually expect a voice. But, if a robot speaks ‘out of nowhere’, for example if it merely plays a soundbite through a speaker, then this can easily startle people. It is a disembodied voice. So, again I think that follow-up experiments should be done to provide more conclusive results (as also suggested by the researchers). In a way this resembles the previous critical remark: the robot does not look like it was designed to talk to people so it may come across as a mismatch if it does talk.
But, all in all, this sort of research is very useful and more of it is needed to support the succesful introduction of healthcare robotics.