June 23, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Enlisting robots for day care

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Rubi, a teacher's assistant at the Early Childhood Education Center in San Diego, has eyes sometimes in back of her head, along with antennas and a couple of microprocessors.

The robot is part of an experiment at the University of California San Diego to study how robots and humans interact. Rubi is capable of tracking heads, detecting faces and interpreting basic expressions. Additionally, it can teach songs and--through the touch-screen--conjure up interactive games.

Rubi the robot
Credit: UCSD
Rubi is capable of tracking heads,
detecting faces and interpreting
basic expressions.

The robot is also animated with Bayesian artificial intelligence, meaning that it compiles data on its past experiences and changes its behavior to try to achieve certain outcomes. In other words, if the kids forget there's a second verse to "Itsy bitsy spider," the system will prompt Rubi to prompt them.

Rubi and Qrio, an experimental robot developed by Sony also used in the experiments, are immersed for about an hour at a time in the ordinary activities of the 10- to 24-month-old children of ECEC Classroom 1.

The idea behind the experiment is not to devise a robotic drone that will pick up socks and school supplies. Instead, the researchers want to study how robots can be built that will interact with humans more on a social level. Kids hug her, said Javier Movellan, director of the Machine Perception Lab at UCSD.

Instead of legs, UCSD's robot scoots about on four wheels, has a head and two arms. Five high-powered processors are inside her body but an additional 24 are located in a cluster back at the lab. UCSD also built the robot to be soft and plump.

"We are impressed by machines doings things that are difficult for us, like playing chess at the level of a grandmaster," Movellan said in a statement. "What's difficult is what we underestimate and take for granted, like emotional expression or correctly picking out an object regardless of light conditions. Genuine interaction will have to go far beyond computing capacity or a sterile cognition. It will have to be about forming relationships."


Correction: An earlier version of this News.com story misstated the platform on which the Rubi robot is based. It's based on a design from UCSD.


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What kid is gonna want a hug from this thing? Day care isn't about storytime or alerting someone about a wet diaper.

Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
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You'd be surprised.
Kids are curious, and until told that a robot is a cold, emotionless hunk of metal waiting to crush them because they won't stop crying for mommy, they're going to have no preconceived notions and interact with it the same way they do a cat or dog.

Me, with a 12-month-old, I'm more interested in what kinds of technology the robots have to prevent them from rolling over a kid or keeping their balance so as to not fall on a kid.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
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movie plug...
Despite a groundswell of activity in robotics, the public is largely unaware of an uninterested in "human-cyborg relations"--yet. I highly recommend Steven Spielberg's somewhat forgotten sci-fi movie "AI/Artificial Intelligence" for a view of the moral implications that are coming when robots have entered our social space. The Evangelical kooks will have a lot more to worry about than stem cells, and sooner than they think...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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PKD saw this coming
Philip K. Dick saw this coming. Do you remember his story named Nanny? Our wallets are doomed 8-).
Posted by yeselcuk (3 comments )
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