December 30, 2015
Meet Nadine, the eerily-realistic social robot that works as a receptionist
People walking into the reception of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) could meet a "receptionist" that's a bit different than they're used to: one that remembers their name and face as well as previous conversations, despite being a humanoid robot.
"Nadine" is the latest social robot developed by scientists at NTU, and is powered by intelligent software similar to Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, ScienceDaily reports. Along with her impressive memory, she can be happy or sad, depending on the conversation, and smiles and maintains eye contact while speaking.
She also looks incredibly lifelike—being modeled on her creator Prof Nadia Thalmann—and boasts flowing reddish-brown hair.
However, the most impressive technology Nadine has, her ability to engage in sophisticated human interaction, can operate without the associated human appearance. It can appear on a TV or computer screen, and could provide companionship for children or older people long before they have full humanoids in the home.
Your own C-3PO?
Thalmann, an expert in virtual humans and a faculty from NTU's School of Computer Engineering, explained that: "Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics. As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future.
"This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening. So in future, these socially intelligent robots could be like C-3PO, the iconic golden droid from Star Wars, with knowledge of language and etiquette," she added.
Progress in robotics has resulted in part from from technological improvements in silicon chips, sensors, and computation.
Sending gestures around the world
Also in the works at NTU is a tele-presence robot named EDGAR, which can be controlled remotely by a user anywhere in the world. By standing in front of a specialized webcam, EDGAR can mimic the person's upper body movements as well as displaying their facial expressions on its own face. The robot also has social and conversational skills similar to Nadine's.
EDGAR's creator, Associate Professor Gerald Seet from the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and the BeingThere Centre at NTU, said:
"EDGAR is a real demonstration of how telepresence and social robots can be used for business and education. Telepresence provides an additional dimension to mobility. The user may project his or her physical presence at one or more locations simultaneously, meaning that geography is no longer an obstacle.
"In future, a renowned educator giving lectures or classes to large groups of people in different locations at the same time could become commonplace. Or you could attend classes or business meetings all over the world using robot proxies, saving time and travel costs."
As for this RedOrbit writer, a recent trip to Japan provided evidence that artificial intelligence could trump human intelligence (mine, at least) sooner than we thought. Having had the good fortune to meet the Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank robot Pepper, a conversation ensued in which poor Pepper had all kinds of things shouted at him in English, with a growing assumption that the famous robot is actually useless, until it dawned on me that a Japanese robot obviously speaks Japanese.
Hopefully our future humanoid companions will continue to respond kindly to us even if they remember the times we acted dumb.
Feature Image: Nanyang Technological University