Enlisting robots for day care

University's experimental robot is capable of tracking heads, identifying faces and interpreting basic expressions.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Rubi, a teacher's assistant at the Early Childhood Education Center in San Diego, has eyes sometimes in back of her head, along with antennas and a couple of microprocessors.

The robot is part of an experiment at the University of California San Diego to study how robots and humans interact. Rubi is capable of tracking heads, detecting faces and interpreting basic expressions. Additionally, it can teach songs and--through the touch-screen--conjure up interactive games.

Rubi the robot
Credit: UCSD
Rubi is capable of tracking heads,
detecting faces and interpreting
basic expressions.

The robot is also animated with Bayesian artificial intelligence, meaning that it compiles data on its past experiences and changes its behavior to try to achieve certain outcomes. In other words, if the kids forget there's a second verse to "Itsy bitsy spider," the system will prompt Rubi to prompt them.

Rubi and Qrio, an experimental robot developed by Sony also used in the experiments, are immersed for about an hour at a time in the ordinary activities of the 10- to 24-month-old children of ECEC Classroom 1.

The idea behind the experiment is not to devise a robotic drone that will pick up socks and school supplies. Instead, the researchers want to study how robots can be built that will interact with humans more on a social level. Kids hug her, said Javier Movellan, director of the Machine Perception Lab at UCSD.

Instead of legs, UCSD's robot scoots about on four wheels, has a head and two arms. Five high-powered processors are inside her body but an additional 24 are located in a cluster back at the lab. UCSD also built the robot to be soft and plump.

"We are impressed by machines doings things that are difficult for us, like playing chess at the level of a grandmaster," Movellan said in a statement. "What's difficult is what we underestimate and take for granted, like emotional expression or correctly picking out an object regardless of light conditions. Genuine interaction will have to go far beyond computing capacity or a sterile cognition. It will have to be about forming relationships."


Correction: An earlier version of this News.com story misstated the platform on which the Rubi robot is based. It's based on a design from UCSD.