Probably Not Ready for American Idol
So, if you talked the National Science Foundation (NSF)
into buying you seven HUBO advanced humanoid robots —
developed at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and
Technology (KAIST) and costing upwards of $400,000 each —
how would you harness this resource to benefit humanity?
Well, if you were Drexel University's ( www.drexel.edu)
College of Engineering, you would turn them over to the Music
and Entertainment Technology Lab (no kidding, it really exists)
and use them to create a stage show. Describing the
presentation designed to kick off National Engineers Week, lab
director Dr. Youngmoo Kim declared, "This is a historic event.
Never before have seven adult-sized, fully actuated humanoids
appeared on stage together, so it's truly a milestone in robotics research." If you would be amazed to learn that robots can
wave, bend their knees, and move (more or less) in time with music, then you don't want to miss the performance,
preserved for posterity at www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLn_BGfD84g. In a somewhat more entertaining enterprise, four
of them bolted from the herd and performed the Beatles' "Come Together" using a drum set and three specially designed
"Hubophone" instruments ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMQLX-aw_dc). All pretty amazing, but it sort of makes you
wonder what the NSF is doing with the other $7.764 billion in 2012 funding. To apply for your share of it, log onto
www.nsf.gov/funding and browse the opportunities.
"The Hubos" cover a Beatles' tune.
Talk to the Animals
At first, the headline was a little confusing. After all, why would
anyone want a robotic version of an Irish singer-songwriter? But then I
noticed that we're talking about a bonobo (Pan paniscus) — a little-known great ape that, unlike its cousin the chimp (Pan troglodytes
schweinfurthi) but like Bono (Pan U2ibus), is pretty good at walking
erect. Not to be confused with Sonnybono (Pan chergonilus), who
seldom did. In any event, the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary
( www.greatapetrust.org) in Des Moines is home to eight of them
(plus a couple orangutans); these critters can communicate using
nearly 400 words as represented by lexigrams on a touch screen.
That's where RoboBonobo comes in. The folks at the Trust have created
this prototype as a sort of play toy for the bonobos. Using wireless
keypads and iPads, they can control it and even make it chase humans
around and shoot them with a water cannon (which the bonobos
seem to find highly amusing). The problem is, neither the Trust nor the
apes have enough money to further develop the program. (Apparently,
they've never heard of the National Science Foundation.) For this
reason, they're asking for donations to raise the paltry $20,000 needed
to create a set of Internet-connected keyboards and apps that will
allow both apes and people to communicate with each other. This
includes an app that will translate human speech into the appropriate
lexigrams. If you want to offer your support, go to www.
kickstarter.com and search for "bonobo." The best part is that if you
pledge at least $500, you'll get to have a live Skype session with a
real bonobo. SV
RoboBonobo, a mechanical companion
for the real thing.
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