Technology breeds cheaper robots just like us

Researchers at Canterbury University have found people can use body gestures to control humanoid robots.

They say there will be more humanoid robots used by people in the future as they become cheaper.

Researchers at the university’s human interface technology (HIT) lab are investigating ways to use a humanoid robot to teach mathematics to children.

A humanoid robot is based on the general structure of a human, such as one which walks on two legs and has an upper torso, or a robot which has two arms, two legs and a head.

A humanoid robot does not necessarily look convincingly like a real person, and in some cases substitutes a helmet for a face.

Postgraduate researcher Mohammad Obaid says staff have been investigating how to allow users to define their preferences on what they thought were the most intuitive gestures required to navigate humanoid robots.

"We have defined a set of body gestures to control a humanoid robot based on users' preferences. Integrating the defined gestures into the sensor programmes of humanoid robots may allow users to interact with a robot using full body gestures, which in turn will enhance the robots usability.”

Mr Obaid says, generally, researchers in the field of human-robot interaction aim at controlling a humanoid robot in the most intuitive way to enhance the user’s natural experience and engagement with the robot.

"We allow the user to be involved in the process of defining how they like to navigate a humanoid robot. Therefore, we conducted a research study to define a set of gestures for the navigational control of a humanoid robot.”

The HIT lab analysed data from 35 participants who performed 385 gestures for 11 navigational commands such as: forward, backward, turn right, turn left, move right, move left, speed up, slow down, stand up, sit down and stop.

The analysis of the data revealed a set of gestural commands to control a humanoid robot.

“Most humanoid robots have sensors integrated in them and with our work we can make robots more user friendly by employing our findings into the sensor programs of the robot and allowing them to sense human gestural commands,” Mr Obaid says.

Robots are already being used for house cleaning, entertainment, elderly care and education, and the university has created a mobile app for a mathematics-teaching robot.

Another researcher, Timo Bleeker, created Howie the robot which interacts with the users to get them solving maths problems.

Howie tells the user he lost control over his legs and left arm and can only regain control of his limbs if the user solves three maths questions.

Howie asks children three random addition questions with numbers between 1 and 10. Whenever a question is answered correctly, Howie will regain control over one of his limbs and start moving it.

bcunningham@nbr.co.nz

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