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He's Just a Buddy
If you're a fan of yellow smiley faces and
people who say "have a nice day," then you'll love
Pepper — a robot developed by SoftBank Mobile
( www.softbank.jp) and Aldebaran Robotics
( www.aldebaran.com). Pepper doesn't clean
floors, fetch things, cook waffles, or anything like
that. Rather, he simply hangs around and makes
you feel better. Using proprietary algorithms,
Pepper observes your facial expressions and voice
tones, analyzes your emotional state, and reacts
by dancing, telling jokes, or providing other forms
of support and entertainment. Masayoshi Son,
SoftBank chairman and CEO, noted, "Since
foundation, we have followed our corporate
philosophy of 'Information Revolution — Happiness
for everyone.' To realize our vision, we have made
a new entry into the robot business with the aim
of developing affectionate robots that make
people smile. Using emotion engines and Cloud AI — which evolves with collective wisdom — we're making this happen."
Pepper will speak English, French, Japanese, and Spanish initially, with other languages added later. Priced at about
$1,940, he is slated to be available by February 2015. In the meantime, live long and prosper.
Flung Among the Dung
One of Earth's least desirable swimming spots is Kenya's Mara River, as it is the home of an estimated 4,000
hippopotomi. They tend to graze in the savannah grasslands all night and laze around by day while each hippo dumps
about 22 lb of dung into the river. Of course, exactly what happens to the 44 ton daily dose of dung is of enormous
academic interest, and folks from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies ( www.caryinstitute.org) have been
examining water quality in the Mara since 2008. Unfortunately, doing so is not only disgusting, it is also downright
dangerous, as hippos are among the most dangerous
of African beasts. According to researcher Amanda
Subalusky, "Hippos are very territorial and aggressive,
and have been known to attack boats. We have to
work with armed rangers when we get in the river
anywhere, but we would never be able to get into a
hippo pool." However, our friends at Carnegie
Mellon's Robotics Institute ( www.ri.cmu.edu) and
spinoff Platypus LLC ( senseplatypus.com) found a
solution in the form of floating robot boats disguised
as crocodiles, which the hippos generally ignore.
Three of them — which use Android smartphones for
onboard computing and can navigate autonomously
— were deployed last March.
Sonar sensors aboard the boats were used to
create depth maps of 10 different hippo pools and to
measure the depth of the fecal deposits. Other
sensors checked such water quality parameters as
water temperature, oxygen content, and electrical
conductivity. At this time, collected data is still being analyzed and remains
unpublished, but it was revealed that the water-cooled boats functioned well
except for suffering a clogged intake "at least once."
Pepper, your personal happiness counselor.
A 13 lb autonomous boat
disguised as a crocodile.
8 SERVO 09.2014