Wheels or Tracks?
A quick post to add an introduction to snake-inspired robot designs, just a good paper with lots of relevant information and only published in January of this year. The paper can be found here. Please note the urge of the little boy (below) to touch this robot, I get the feeling that it would be the first thing I would like to do too, it looks very touchable and the design lends itself to technical, shiny snake-like Sci-fi gadgetry? Click the picture for further info.
A question came to mind here regarding touch – when would a robot be allowed to touch a person, particularly without our knowledge or prior agreement? Under what circumstances etc. And would it make a difference if it was humanoid? We could discover that we prefer to be touched by robots in medical circumstances – after all, in surgery, precision is key?
I’ve had Roboboa on my dining room table whilst I work, I can’t read with him switched on but can surf the net etc. As a table top lamp it’s hopeless, the orange and red LED’s do not give enough light to read. However as a ‘companion’ he is beginning to show signs of being amusing and some times interesting if left in Aware mode for long periods. As the batteries very slowly run out of power Roboboa has begun to ‘fall asleep’ and ‘awake’ – much like Roy Batty whilst he is hanging from a window frame in the ‘time to die’ closing scenes of Blade Runner.
So even unaccounted for electronic ‘behaviour’ is being created which is an oddly interesting and a pleasantly surprising aspect. Just by being a battery powered machine it appears to have the ability to invoke emotions attached to personal experience or cultiural exposure to be more precise. Men (or boys), I think, in particular like Robots as a concept, we’ve been waiting a long time (it would seem) for some good ones and so far the most effective and commercially available have been US Warbots in Afghanistan and Roomba both from iRobot (see previous post on iRobot), so just a little worrying to say the least and intriguing at the same time regarding Helen Greiner’s role and obvious influence. However, now I have mentioned it the gender balance in Robotics in general would appear to be sufficiently (?) addressed by womens high profiles and leadership in the emergence of social robotics. (see Dautenhahn, Breazeal etc. interesting article here).
Anyway back to Roboboa – companion or irritant – bloody irritating – but strangely, at fleeting moments - uncanny????
If he’s an Alien as WoWee would have us ‘believe’ why is he dressed like a NASA rocket? I can already imagine Roboboa in a pair of snake skin tights at a really serious academic Social Robotics convention in Tokyo, especially if someone from OC Robotics could reprogramme it with sexy alluring moves whilst singing Disney’s Jungle Book inspired ’Trust in Me’? – what a great ethnographic research tool? A robot to make people laugh is clearly affective and a possible ‘way in’ for Robots in domestic spaces and non-user/non-interest social and healthcare groups. Multi-purpose, non-humanoid robots with a ‘social presence’ on first impressions look somewhat fruitful for research purposes? A Roboboa equipped with the same wireless camera/mic kit from Rovio would be a useful prototype for monitoring non-mobile healthcare groups. Another aspect occurred to me which is worth mentioning and that is everyone who has seen him has an unexplainable desire to talk to it, so a facility for speech recognition and dictation may work too. Maybe a smaller version could be a combination of a desk phone, webcam, dictation, voice recognition, table top lamp, mp3, wireless router/expander, wireless HardDrive (tubular for Disc storage), Bluetooth enabled Deskbot. Zorg (see below) had one except he wasn’t a robot for some bizzare reason, but he did have a snake-like trunk. – very funny scene with a poignant message of good vs evil or capitalist robotics vs the end of the world? - which Thrift in Electric Animals also refers to as ‘everyday ethics’ regarding the future of commercial robotic ethics and Varela’s (2000) ethical acknowledgement of ‘other intelligibilites’.
I wonder if Roboboa’s two head sections could fit onto Rovio?
Having re-read Nigel Thrift’s – Electric Animals’ I clearly need to experience the ownership of a ’living’ embodiment of an ‘electric companion animal’ so I bought a Roboboa, which according to WowWee, the manufacturer is ’A Fusion Of Technology and Personality’ and I already have to admit to talking to it when it very nearly broke my new sunglasses. I have now, of course, vowed to never do it again or get caught talking to it anyway – I wonder why? I was going to put the link in for the WowWee site, but on second thoughts I didn’t want to act as a passive agent. (link here for ease!) Thinking from a purely consumerist perspective I managed to purchase it for £33.00 from Top ToyZ in Tewkesbury, which at first seems quite reasonable for the technology and for the actual size of the toy itself (satisfyingly larger than expected) but clearly from the current price, not a popular toy? From a research viewpoint, it could serve as an example for improvement – how could this type of toy or robot be affectively and effectively improved? – it really doesn’t appear to do a great deal of anything on any discernible level but still seems to evoke typical anthropomorphic responses (similar-ish to a pet) - which seems begrudgingly clever and clearly exploitable from a capitalist/commercial perspective and also regarding the so called ‘Uncanny Valley’ hypothesis, as far as making it more snake-like is concerned. It seems to be well built and lasting reasonably well on batteries, but for concerted use a rechargeable kit will definitely be required. The following video is not a good reflection of it’s various attempts at human interaction, mainly because the Demo and Party mode are particularly loud, irritating and pointless, whereas the Aware and Guard modes are more variable and somewhat biomimetic (snake-like) and therefore lend themselves to thoughts of reprogramming or fantasies of programming in my case. One thing I can say with certainty is, I can’t wait to unscrew it all?
Click here for Roboboa Dissection - so looks like I won’t be taking it apart then?
A coiled and concealed OC Robotics snake-arm with fully functioning skin would be the finishing touch to this very impressive commercially available robot, and for that matter the Roomba could do with a snake-arm too, it could hoover up flies and spiders whilst doing the tops of skirting boards and gaps in radiators - come to think of it, maybe iRobot could do with a few international competitors?
iRobot is the company who also make the Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner which has been commercially available for some time now. The president and co-founder of iRobot, Helen Greiner (MIT) has been particularly sceptical regarding humanoid robots and after a month of concerted research I’m beginning to agree with her views. The biggest concern of course is space, how long would it take for the average family take to get annoyed with a human sized domestic helper whizzing around cleaning up after everyone, living space is clearly at a premium and surely will become even more so, particularly in large cities like Tokyo, New York, London etc – where would you keep/put it? Asimov’s concept of an adult sized ’humanoid robot for everyone’ seen in the iRobot film seems somewhat fanciful and completeley impractical for the future home.
I think ZORG may have a point?
On second thoughts I forgot about cars, I’m sure until Henry Ford came along the idea that everyone would have a car was preposterous?
Now that would be an exciting collaboration, a domestic humanoid robot that also transforms into a mode of automated, GPS enabled, hydrogen powered, single occupancy transport. I wonder if that’s what ASIMO will become?