Robots vs Humanity

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Should robots have faces? Can you fall in love with a robot? Will robots rule the future? These are some of the questions that were approached at last Thursday 1st December at ‘Robots vs Humanity’, an event organised by the CHIRON project.

The sold out event, held at Google Campus in London, saw people from many industries come together to think about and debate some of the biggest issues facing our society and future. Rich Walker, MD of Shadow Robot chaired the panel, which saw the speakers weigh in on questions tweeted in by the audience throughout the six talks.

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The panel debates some of the questions tweeted in by the audience

Among the speakers were Patrick Levy Rosenthal, CEO of Emoshape who introduced his innovative new hardware – an emotion chip (Emotion Processing Unit) which enables emotional response from robots and AI. The EPU enables machines to respond to stimuli in line with the eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. Controversy followed not long after with Kathleen Richardson, Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots who spoke about society and her opposition to sex robots.

Also speaking at the event were psychologists and psychiatrists, Dr Tom Pennybacker & Dr Elena Tourani of the Chelsea Psychology Clinic and Richard Graham of the Tavistock and Portman, who weighed in on issues surrounding attachment, child development and love. Meanwhile, engineers, Dr Praminda Caleb Solly, Associate Professor at UWE Bristol and Professor Guang-Zhong Yang, Co-Founder of the Hamlyn Centre, explored exciting developments in the robotics world and spoke about some of their ground-breaking research to date.

Praminda, who recently won STEM woman of the year at the RWOTY awards 2016, spoke about assistive technology and care robots. She was keen to put across the idea that robots were not being made to replace carers, merely to assist them. She said:

“The work in the BRL involves understanding how people and robots can interact intuitively, safely and effectively; designing and testing robots that will be acceptable and enjoyable to use, and ensuring that the technology is developed being mindful of ethical and cultural issues.”

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Praminda Caleb-Solly (left) won STEM Woman of the Year 2016

“Assistive technologies, such as smart home environments, integrated sensors and assistive robotics, are recognised as important tools in helping older people improve their quality of life and live independently for longer. Current research is looking into a range of different ways in which robots might be used, such as assisting older adults with age related disabilities and long term conditions, and their carers, in daily tasks, to enable independent living and active ageing.”

However, not everyone was as positive about these advances in technology as Dr Caleb-Solly. Kathleen Richardson who is also author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines said: “I am extremely worried about the impact on human relationships, as the idea that humans are optional – that you can have all your needs met by a machine – is not true.”

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Kathleen Richardson, Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots

“In my previous research on autism I looked at how human beings make attachments and what happens if they don’t make attachments with other human beings.”

“Machines are very good at doing work and going to places that we cannot go to, like outer space, so they definitely have a role to play, but they cannot do what people do – they cannot do intimacy. It is not possible but we are increasingly being told it is,” she added.

Sinéad Nolan, Research and Communications Office for the CHIRON project who organised the event explained why she wanted people to have this debate.

“I think people should be discussing these issues. We are on the edge of one of the biggest changes in society. Technology is moving forward and people are wondering where it is going – where will we be in 30 years’ time? What will that change mean for us, and what will it mean for our society and our happiness?

“Although I agree that ‘Robots vs Humanity’ does sound a bit like a battle, we hoped the outcome for the event would be overall one of positivity and it definitely was. The feedback from the event has been excellent, with people saying it was one of the best events of its kind that they have ever attended.

“While we initially invited people to think of it a black and white issue, I think people left with a much more well-rounded view of how assistive technology and robots can help further our society in the future.”

 

Five New Robots in 2016

  1. MiRo

MiRo, by Sebastian Conran Associates, is marketed as a “biomimetic companion robot”. Modelled on a dog – albeit a dog that will transmit news of any problems in the home to a hub, remind you to take your medicine, and remind you of your visitors’ names – MiRo was met with derision recently by the Guardian. They scoffed ‘What visitors? If you had any, you wouldn’t need a robot.’ The designers have modelled MiRo on animals, ‘from their senses and decision-making processes, all the way through to their bodies and behaviours’. The robot also claims to be self-assembly and comes with instructions. With a ‘low cost fully programmable autonomous platform the companion robot is has six senses, eight degrees of freedom, an innovative brain-inspired operating system and a simulation software package’. The MiRo seems nifty and useful, just as long as it avoids becoming a trip hazard.

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Asus Zenbo
  1. Asus Zenbo

Zenbo is a new robot friend aimed at seniors and kids. It is described as a smart home manager, security guard, hands-free kitchen assistant, and family photographer. The video markets it as fitting into the family as somewhat a remote carer and childminder in one – reading stories to your children and following you around reminding you, like a tiny, wide-eyed, benevolent secretary, of the appointments you’ve forgotten. Zenbo provides recipe recommendations and similar services in response to voice queries. Users can also use Zenbo to buy goods online by logging into accounts and inputting passwords with their voice, and take photos like an autonomous selfie stick. Asus can also recognise your older relative falling over, take a photo of it and send it to you. This might be useful in a worst-case scenarios. The device will cost $599 when it becomes available.

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The Geminoid Robot
  1. Geminoid Robot

This life-like robot showed up at the World Robot Exhibition in Beijing earlier this year. Named Android Geminoid F, the robot already has fans, with some even describing her as ‘sexy’ (I can personally think of a few more accurate words!)
Geminoid is designed act like a human with rubber ‘skin’ and a woman’s face – but can’t walk and has to be wheeled around. The robot was created by Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory at Osaka University who plan on creating a better model in the future. The robot can smile, furrow her brows and move her mouth. It can also talk and sing – playing recordings, or ‘mouthing’ other people’s voices. She is equipped with motorised actuators, powered by air pressure, which allow her to ‘copy’ human facial expressions. The current version of Geminoid F costs $108,600 (£72,000).

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The activPAL will be worn in a similar way to the Fitbit
  1. ActivPAL

Hoping to bring new help to people with dementia, the activPAL tracker, which is strapped to the bottom of the leg, measures all movement from side to side, up and down, and backwards and forwards. It sends the information back to a computer which analyses it to provide details about how long a patient spends sitting, how active they are, when they eat, whether they are going to bed at the right time and how many times they get up in the night. The movement can give dementia patients and their carers details about their lives, which they can use to monitor their health. Dr Chris Pickford, of the University of Salford, said the technology could provide unique insights into patients’ conditions and help spot problems before they become serious.

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The Lean Elderly Assistant (LEA)
  1. LEA

We wrote a post about this earlier this year when one of our project leads Jobeda Ali went to the launch of the LEA. The Lean Elderly Assistant robot (LEA) pretty much looks like a stroller with an iPad stuck on top. LEA helps with walking and transferring, however it is also disguising hundreds of extremely useful functions, sensors and programmes that are continuously being refined. For example, it can remind you to take your medicine or physically help with exercising. It does not ‘feel’ to most users and the public like a robot.

Apps..

Not technically a robot, but we would be remit if we didn’t mention an app which has been doing well this year. SAM, co-designed by CHIRON’s own Praminda Caleb-Solly is a free self-help app for anxiety. It has been downloaded by over 500,000 users from more than 100 countries since its launch in July 2013. It has been in the top 100 health and fitness apps in 85 countries and received thousands of positive reviews. The SAM app helps users to cope and deal with common symptoms associated with mild to moderate anxiety. It enables users to monitor their anxiety levels and visualise an anxiety profile over time, also to discover and apply self-help techniques via multimedia mini-games.

 

Success for CHIRON’s Sanja Dogramadzi

CHIRON projects’ Professor Sanja Dogramadzi from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) has been named in RoboHub’s fourth annual ’25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About’ list.

Following a seeming trend in the CHIRON team at the moment (see Praminda Caleb-Solly’s success as STEM woman of the year a few weeks ago), Sanja has joined the ranks of other incredibly successful women on the CHIRON team.

Professor Dogramadzi develops medical and assistive robots at the laboratory. Her research focuses on the multidisciplinary use of robotics technologies in healthcare settings. She has been awarded funding in excess of £2.5 million since 2009 and is currently supervising and managing a team of 15 post-doctoral and doctoral researchers and junior lecturers.

The fourth annual ’25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About’ list was compiled by RoboHub in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day. In all, 100 women have been featured to date with the list showcasing women working in research, development, and commercialization of robotics.

Shadow opens office at Future Space at UWE Bristol

The article below has been reblogged from Shadow Robot’s website with their permission.

One of the UK’s longest-running robotics companies, Shadow Robot Company, have just opened a new office in Bristol’s Future Space which is based at the University of West England (UWE Bristol), adjacent to the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

Shadow are a partner in the Innovate UK-funded CHIRON project, a two year programme to design care robotics for the future, partnering the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Designability, amongst others.

Managing Director of Shadow, Rich Walker, said “Having an office in Bristol is perfect for us. We have many links out here in the west of England, and it’s a great base for us to work closer with our partners on the CHIRON project.

“We’re also keen to build new relationships in this area, and Future Space seems like the best possible fit for us in terms of location and links to other innovators and businesses.”

The Centre Director of Future Space, Elaine McKechnie said “The Shadow Robot Company is a perfect fit for Future Space and we are very excited that they have decided to set up a base here. Shadow joins a growing group of engineering and technology companies that are seeking to work in a stimulating environment that will nurture collaborative opportunities.”

Associate Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly is leading the BRL element of the CHIRON project, and said, “Ensuring that our research into development assistive robots has the potential to reach people and make an impact in the real-world requires working from the start with commercial partners such as Shadow. The BRL distinguishes itself from other research organisations in this area by working in a participatory manner with not only commercial enterprises who have experience of delivering market-ready products, but also people who will be using technology in their homes and care organisations.

“It makes huge sense for the Shadow Robot Company to take up a base in Bristol. We are working together with commercial partners on other robotic solutions to help older people live for longer in their homes. We’re delighted to have such an established robotics team joining us next door to the BRL and hope this proximity will help us develop further research collaborations.’

The CHIRON project (Care at Home using Intelligent Robotic Omni-functional Nodes) looksto create a set of intelligent modular robotic systems, located in multiple positions around your home; CHIRON could help you with personal hygiene tasks in the morning, help you get ready for the day and even support you in preparing your favourite meal in the kitchen.

It is being managed by a consortium led by Designability. The key technology partners are the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Shadow Robot Company, who have considerable expertise in conducting pioneering research and development in robotics.

Award winning social enterprise care provider, Three Sisters Care will bring user-centered design to the very core of the our project. Smart Homes & Buildings Association will work to introduce the range of devices that will create CHIRON and make it an indispensable presence in our homes.

‘Robots Helping People’

An event at IET – Speaker: Professor Yiannis Demiris, posted by Sinéad Nolan.

Working on the CHIRON project, it is always helpful to attend events to see what other people are up to in the assistive technology world. With that in mind, I went to see Professor Yiannis Demiris speak at the ‘Robots Helping People’ event at the Institute of Engineering and Technology last week (11th May 2016).

Is this the future?

While many people hear the word ‘robotics in care’ and jump to conclusions based around the potential for worst case scenarios often imagined in the media (Channel 4’s Humans springs to mind), the reality at this event seemed rather different. Instead of a dystopian hell which featured robots instead of human carers, it was based more around assistive technology or assistive robotics becoming a supplement for certain basic services a carer might provide.

“I started the lab in Imperial called personal robotics for a particular reason – I have the vision that robots do not belong in factories,’ said Demiris. “They are robots that try to help us in any way they can. The reason I call them personal robotics is because one of the key issues is that we need personalisation.”

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User needs

As anyone who has undertaken a project knows, things don’t always turn out as we plan them. That is why user engagement absolutely needs to be prioritised before building anything.

In one of Demiris’ most recent projects they tried to build smart wheelchairs for children with disabilities equipped with sensors to help the user navigate a corridor. An interesting thing happened in these studies – what they found was that many got frustrated when the wheelchair was controlled externally.

One of the mistakes, Demiris says, is for the engineer to assume they know what the user wants outright – instead they need to listen to what the user wants, and think about how they build a better way to make this possible.

‘Eventually, we tried to change the behaviour of the wheelchair to match the skills of the kid that was actually driving. These wheelchairs wanted to be able to adapt to the changing profile of the user.”

Instead of controlling the user, the user controlled the wheelchair – and the adaptive system only stepped in when needed (for example, if the child was about to bump into something).

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Adaptive systems

Similarly, some of the robots Demiris designed aimed to observe how you move and tried to modify the trajectories for itself. This manifested in a robotic pair of arms that could carefully and gently help someone put their jacket on (see video here).

From an engineering stance this meant adaptive systems applicable to lots of different domains, whether it was physical cognitive, emotional or artistic.

“They all have the same underlying philosophy of getting some data from the user, building a model and adapting the behaviour to this user.

“We want to build the same technology for every person, and then the application area changes but the underlying technology stays the same. An interactive learning cycle which keeps going constantly with interaction with the user. We don’t use to one type of algorithm, we use lots.”

Challenges

One of the key issues Demiris pointed out, were the challenges in trying to build a robot that could assist people.

“One is personalisation’s – we have to explicitly model the users’ parameters so we have to be able to adjust the behaviour based on these generic internal model – and then I will change the behaviour. It’s not useful to have the same type of behaviour for everyone.

“Prediction is a key point in our work, there is no point when you are building assistive robotics using traditional AI techniques which rely on collecting all your data, doing some sort of classification, then acting.”

Instead, once Demiris and his team have a model, they try to predict what kind of assistance this particular person needs. They personalise the assistance for each individual user and constantly adapt the assistance to different users.

“If you have, for example, something that helps you walk and prevents you from falling down, it’s no use for you to fall down and then to realise, ‘Ah I should have helped!’ For us the key point is actually doing prediction and prediction means collecting all the data trying to run in forward in time, trying to see if there will be some needs later and acting before the person needs the help. “If you act when the person has already fallen down, it’s too late,” he added.

But limitations and challenges aside, Demiris is positive about the future of assistive technology in the care sector.

“The time where we can have a robot help us for a minute has passed, we are going to have robots among us for longer periods of time and they have to get to know us, to serve us better.”