Sunday, 29 June 2008

MIT's Social Robot: Nexi

Quote of Day: Rodney Brooks, MIT Professor and celebrated robotics researcher:

I don't think there is going to be one single sudden technological “big bang” that springs an Artificial General Intelligence into “life.” Starting with the mildly intelligent systems we have today, machines will become gradually more intelligent, generation by generation. The singularity will be a period, not an event. (Source: I, Rodney Brooks, Am a Robot)

Nexi is a MSD robot, which means she is Mobile, Social, and Dexterous. Like other MIT sociable robots before her, Nexi is designed to explore socially situated learning and to support research and education goals in human-robot interaction and teaming. Nexi represents another step toward sophisticated, intelligent robots being capable of interacting with humans based on verbal instructions. Nexi's face can display a wide range of facial expressions, video cameras and microphones enable her to see and hear, and eventually Nexi will have mobility made possible by a Segway transporter type device.

Nexi is a sophisticated and impressive robot to be sure, yet she is also perceived as aesthetically 'scary', 'emo,' 'creepy,' and 'sad' looking. Nexi's appearance is somewhat of a departure for the MIT social robot projects (Kismet, Leonardo, The Huggable) which tends to favor non-humanoid yet cute and engaging figures. Still, Nexi's enlarged head and decidedly inorganic (i.e. metallic) body seem to be (to me) a continuation of the Kismet aesthetic I have written about previously and may reflect a (Western) cultural bias toward aesthetics that lead away from the uncanny valley and deeply embedded cultural fears of monstrous machines (baby-like figures as an antidote to Frankenstein mythology?).

Nexi certainly makes it easier to visualize the look and feel of increasingly social (and domestic) robots performing assistive, therapeutic and affective roles within health care, eldercare and education. Henrik Christensen, director of the newly formed Robotics and Intelligent Machines Center in the Georgia Tech College of Computing suggests that personal robots will enter our everyday life in two ways, "One is the robotic personal assistant that may cost as much as an automobile. The other is through the addition of specific robot functionality to standard household equipment." Christensen cites iRobot's Roomba home vacuum cleaner as a low-cost example of things to come.


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Glenda Shaw Garlock said...

thank you...