NTU's newest receptionist is a robot with moods and emotions

NTU's newest receptionist is a robot with moods and emotions
Professor Nadia Thalmann (in red) with NTU's humanoid robot Nadine.
PHOTO: NTU

SINGAPORE - A new "receptionist" at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is sure to attract more attention than usual, and it isn't because she has a beautiful head of flowing brunette hair.

Nadine is the latest social robot developed by scientists at the university and looks just like a human being. She even has different moods, emotions and a personality of her own.

The humanoid robot is friendly and will shake hands and greet guests while looking them in the eye. She will even remember the name of people she meets and remember the previous conversation she had with a person.

Powered by intelligent software similar to Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, Nadine was designed to resemble its creator, Professor Nadia Thalmann, who has the same chin-length bob hairstyle.

NTU said in a statement that Nadine could be used as a personal assistant in offices and homes, or as a social companion for the young and the elderly in future.

Prof Thalmann, the director of the Institute for Media Innovation who led the development of Nadine, said : "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".

Over the past four years, Prof Thalmann and her team have been fostering cross-disciplinary research in social robotics technologies to transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans.

"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 said.

Another robot, Edgar, has a rear-projection screen for its face and two highly articulated arms.

According to NTU, Edgar is a tele-presence robot optimised to project the gestures of its human user. A user can control Edgar remotely from anywhere in the world with the use of a special webcam. The user's face and expressions will be displayed on the robot's face in real time, while the robot mimics the person's upper body movements.

The robot can also deliver speeches by autonomously acting out a script. With an integrated webcam, he automatically tracks the people he meets to engage them in conversation, giving them informative and witty replies to their questions.

Such social robots are ideal for use at public venues, such as tourist attractions and shopping centres, as they can offer practical information to visitors, NTU said.

Edgar was developed by a team led by Associate Professor Gerald Seet from the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and the BeingThere Centre at NTU after three years of research and development.

"Edgar is a real demonstration of how telepresence and social robots can be used for business and education," added Prof Seet said.

"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."

ljessica@sph.com.sg

 

 

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