iQue robot by Toy Quest (image from http://www.toyquest.com/ique/index.html)
Its manufacturers, Toy Quest, call it the “world’s smartest robot”. Indeed, the speaking iQue robot on wheels has a superb memory and fact recall. Specifically, iQue knows the entire Meriam-Webster student edition dictionary, thousands of historical and other facts, and can even learn and remember information about its beloved owner. But does that really make iQue smart?
IQue’s marketers claim that it will become “your new best friend”, which seems a far reach. It’s entertaining that it can speak to you, ask you questions, and remember facts about you. Yet you cannot exactly have any real type of communication with the iQue – you must type all responses to its questions in a remote control keypad, and you cannot ask it questions about itself. I find Pleo, which cannot form human words, a better companion since it can interact with you. You can watch it develop as a live being would. It reacts when you play tug-of-war with it over its plastic “leaf”, tugging playfully at the leaf and panting, and it yelps angrily when you hold it up by its tail. In short, it can communicate non-verbally with you in a much more natural way than the iQue can.
She’s green and tan, with big curious blue eyes and scaly skin. She’s about as large as a little cat. And as we speak, she’s munching vigorously on her green and yellow plant leaf under my desk. Presently, she’s done eating and she’s staring across the room and up at the ‘ceiling’ (the underside of my desk), yelping and – even walking! One rubbery hoofed paw after the other.
Bryn Mawr College and Georgia Technical Institute were awarded a grant by Microsoft to develop a curriculum for computer science using robots as a learning tool. Both colleges designed and implemented an introductory computer science course based on this premise. Georgia Tech continued to offer their normal introductory class as well. At the conclusion of all Bryn Mawr and Georgia Tech introductory classes, students completed a survey about their experiences in the course, as well as some basic personal information (e.g. gender, ethnicity, etc.) and background (in programming and robotics). The survey included fifty-two questions about the course, although the non-robot classes (all at Georgia Tech) received a twenty-one question subset of the survey, excluding all questions referring to robots in the class.
I’ve just perused two light-hearted, comical articles. One ( “Elvis Lives On as a Robotic Head…”) concerns a newly released commodity, namely a robotic bust of Elvis, capable of singing and speaking with his trademark voice. The other ( “I am rubbish at Scrabble - but playing it online has taught me how to be really good at cheating”) deals with the author’s use of a scrabble-solving engine when playing online Scrabble (although he goes on to realize that it’s more enjoyable to play simply using his own insights instead of acting as a slave to a computer program).
At Bryn Mawr College and Georgia Technological Institute this past year, an introductory computer science class was completely revamped. All students received a robot called a Scribbler, which they then used as a tool to learn the subject of computer science. (To give you a sense of the robots, they are blue and disk-shaped, of diameter approximately six inches, with two motorized wheels and light and infrared sensors and a few other capabilities.) The project was funded by a Microsoft grant. At the end of the semester at Bryn Mawr, the final class assignment was to write a reaction paper on their personal experience of the course. Professor Deepak Kumar, who had assigned the paper, then compiled the twenty-two papers he received into a booklet. I read over the twenty-two essays, and in doing so I noticed and jotted down a number of common, recurring themes in the essays which I would like to describe here.
There is an interesting short article on MSN, “Robot Boy is here!” (click for link to article) It caught my attention because of its title – a robot? And a boy? In one? There’s something that tends to intrigue us humans to issues that are human, or at least life-like.
The article describes a Japanese company that’s recently developed a ‘robot boy’, named CB2. It has various child-like features, including the ability to make human facial expression, to crawl, speak, see (using eye cameras), and even hear and feel (through many sensors in the body, simulating human muscles and nerves). I won’t go into it much here, but the article also interestingly mentions the use of such a robot in learning more about humans and child development and, rather oppositely, the need to learn more about how humans ‘work’ before we can implement good human simulations for robots.