WillowGarage in its recent history announced this amazing opportunity where 10 of their PR2 robots would be given away to various hackerspaces, universities, and companies to beta test.
The PR2 robot is full of amazing and drool-worthy technology. We’re talking about cameras in the arms (which are back drivable) that have a great range of freedom with customizable end-effectors, a base that is mobile and can conquer small obstacles, a modular head with stereo-scopic vision, a 5MP camera, a laser range finder in its neck… and so much software from ROS. For me, I was most surprised about the accessible log hard drive of 1.5 TB, as well as the 2x24GB of RAM. Amazing capability for so much number-crunching power! It’s everything that can be wanted in a high-end research robot!
Clarkson University did send in a letter of intent to the CFP, but didn’t end up submitting the proposal. However, I am able to share the parts of the project that I proposed (and worked on for an incredible amount of time)!
One of the major topics of discussions in robotics today is how to make robots appear as though they can be sociable. To make a robot sociable is to allow it to use natural social cues that interest whomever it’s interacting with– basically giving it an artificial persona. How can we, as designers of robots, make humans believe that the robot has a persona? Why is this important anyway?!?!
In a medical-related field of robotics, where the robot is working with a patient to reach some sort of goal, the patient has to remain optimistic in order for the process to be successful. The presence of an artificial persona within the robot can easily exhibit natural social cues that the patient will understand in order to maintain the level of optimism.
The robot has to appear and behave sociably in order for an artificial persona to be evident and to exhibit understandable social cues to the patient. When the patient understands these social cues, a bond will be created between the patient and robot. By the patient forming a bond with the robot, the process will be transformed into a meaningful task that changes over time as goals are overcome and new problems are tackled.
In order for the robot to exhibit the necessary natural social cues, we envision two main hardware additions that could be made to the PR2 robot:
- Ears, mounted on the top of head bolt-patterns
- Eyebrows, mounted on the side of head bolt-patterns
By allowing the PR2 robot to have ear and eyebrow movements, social cues will be able to be communicated effectively to the patient. This effective communication will be crucial in order for the patient to understand what the robot is trying to express within the process.
Adding two simple features to a robot, ears and eyebrows, adds an incredible amount to the sociable degrees of freedom. It’s so important for a robot to have these added DOF in order to portray that it is an approachable piece of equipment, has a persona and character to it, and is not your everyday robot.
We have to keep in mind that NA culture perceives robots completely differently than that of Japanese culture. In NA, robots are not friendly. In Japan, robots are thought of as heros to humanity. If we can embed the feeling that a robot has some character inside of it, then people will take a different opinion on it. ^_^
Pretty much everyone that I know at Clarkson knew I was trying to write up the proposal for this, and how excited I was at this amazing opportunity! It basically chewed up most of the spare time for 2-ish months (hence no blog posts). It’s sad that we/I never got the chance to show off this idea to WillowGarage via the proposal, but I think some WillowGaragers read this blog… so hopefully they will read this post too, and enjoy it! If any of the winners want to add something like this to their robot, I would be more than happy to help in some way. =)
The ideas in this post are under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.