« Chris Ware animation on This American Life | Main | Going to ETech? »

March 24, 2007

Is this the new face of robots?

photo of the keepon robot

I've written before on the efforts underway to make robots more "intelligent" -- better able to adapt to changing circumstances. This is a necessary step in making advanced semi-autonomous robots easier for people to use and interact with.

But that's only part of the story. We'll also want...and need...robots that are empathetic and pleasant to be around. There is some very interesting work going on right now in this area, a lot of it coming out of Carnegie Mellon University. Case in point...Keepon.

Keepon (pronounced "kee-pong") is an extraordinarily cute little robot. It knows how to dance in time with music, but more importantly it's teaching researchers valuable lessons on how machines should interact with people. Keepon's eyes are wide-angle cameras and its nose is a microphone, so it can react to visual and voice stimulus. Watch this quick video to see how it turns to look at an interesting object and how it reacts of the sound of a nearby human voice.

close-up photo of KeeponKeepon also teaches (or rather re-teaches) a valuable lesson in the psychology of face recognition and human empathy. Keepon's appearance couldn't be simpler...two yellow sphere and three circles in the approximate location of eyes and a nose...yet that's all it takes to trigger universal comments of "Aww... how cute!". Add those squishy exaggerated body movements (something that nearly a century of animated cartoons have taught us to associate with sweet innocent fun-filled imaginary creatures) and you don't just have a robot, you have your new best friend.

(Thanks New Scientist)


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at March 24, 2007 08:05 AM


Okay, maybe I have the most evil mind, but I'm picturing that cu-u-ute li'l robot hooked up to some face-recognition software and a really big bomb. Everybody stops to look and say, "aww, how cute!" and when it makes eye contact with the right somebody, ker-blooey!

Somebody tell me I'm wrong.

Posted by: G. L. Dryfoos at March 25, 2007 05:39 PM