Thursday, April 05, 2007
New Scientist reports: [edited]
A robot blob that dances "soulfully" to different tunes could pave the way for machines that interact more naturally with human beings, researchers claim.
Marek Michalowski of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, and Hideki Kozima of the National Institute of Communications Technology (NICT) in Kyoto, Japan, programmed the squishy, yellow robot, called "Keepon", to pick out the beat in a piece of music and move along in time. It can also track the rhythmic motion of a person or another object and move in time to that.
Inside the hollow robot's silicone body are motors, wires and a mechanical device called a gimbal that tugs it like a reversed marionette. Keepon responds by nodding, bobbing, twisting and shaking in time to audio or visual stimulation. "The robot can dance either to sound or video," says Michalowski. A video produced by the researchers shows the uncannily cute Keepon bopping to a track by US band Spoon.
Michalowski, believes robots could usefully apply a sense of rhythm beyond the dance floor. In particular, during ordinary conversations and other interactions with humans. He hopes this will make robots move more like humans and make them more socially engaging.
"Rhythm and synchrony are the foundations of social interactions," he told New Scientist. "So I think that for us to comfortably interact with a robot, it needs to be capable of that."
Keepon's ability to pick out the beat in a piece of music makes it fundamentally different to the dancing Qrios, which are entirely pre-programmed. "The important thing is that Keepon is capable of detecting rhythm," says Fumihide Tanaka, who heads the Qrio Project at Sony Corporation in Tokyo, Japan.