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Robot avatar MeBot gives you wriggling bug body

Developed by an MIT researcher, MeBot is a small robot avatar for telepresence applications that can gesture to help convey the user's emotional state.

In the future, all business meetings will be conducted by telepresence robots--on-site avatar machines that will take care of the boring business of earning a living while we sit back at home sipping lattes and generally enjoying our 300-year lifespans.

Sigurdur Orn

Even if you don't believe telepresence robots are going to eliminate the need to get out of bed in the morning, it's hard to dismiss them as a powerful new communication tool, especially if one is waving at you while perched on someone's shoulder.

MIT doctoral student Sigurdur Orn's MeBot is a mobile telepresence bot with richly expressive gestural abilities. It's part of what he terms "socially embodied communication," which is more immediate than an e-mail or phone call.

The robot--which was displayed this week at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Osaka, Japan--has a small screen atop a three-axis neck that displays the remote user's face, as well as two moving arms. These moving parts help convey user expressions to the other party as the bot moves around on its wheeled base.

The arms seem to be controlled manually, but the moving screen automatically tracks user head movements like nodding or shaking.

MeBot researchers in the MIT Personal Robots Group say that a telepresence robot that is "physically embodied and expressive" is more effective than one that doesn't, citing the findings of an experiment.

"Results showed that people felt more psychologically involved and more engaged in the interaction with their remote partners when they were embodied in a socially expressive way," the PRG YouTube channel says.

"People also reported much higher levels of cooperation both on their own part and their partners as well as a higher score for enjoyment in the interaction."

It's hard to ignore a colleague when he or she is wriggling around in a robot body on your desk. I find MeBot slightly insectile and silly, like the characters in the great video for Donald Fagen's "Snowbound," my fave tune for winter.

I'll bet we're going to see more small-scale, mobile telepresence robot projects, with some bipedal and humanoid, like Japan's Robo-One fighting machines. Maybe when they're not out interacting for us, they can hoof it to the kitchen and fetch the Grey Poupon.

(Via Singularity Hub)