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Social Robots in the Real World

Researchers are developing new ways for social robots to interact with users and help accomplish specific tasks. Below are details about two trailblazing robots.


Bandit the Robot

Bandit was designed by Maja Matarić’s research lab at the University of Southern California to encourage and teach social behavior to children with autism, as well as help stroke patients with their physical rehabilitation exercises, and the elderly with physical and cognitive exercises.

Child interacting with Bandit

Increasing evidence shows that robots can inspire social behavior in children with autism. To the right, Bandit approaches a child, using gestures and a playful outflow of bubbles to encourage the child to interact with it and with the parent.

To regain movement in a limb disabled by a stroke, patients have to be encouraged to repetitively move that limb, with no physical assistance, for many hours at a time, while under supervision. Few physical rehabilitation facilities can offer such time-intensive training, and almost no one can afford it at home.

Stroke Patient rehabilitating with Bandit

To the left, the robot therapist shown here acts as a coach, verbally providing encouragement and direction to stroke patients engaged in rehabilitation exercises that can be done in the clinic or at home. The robot also monitors patients’ progress and ensures proper compliance with the therapy regimen. (Photo credit: USC)

For more about Bandit and children with autism, see: Popular Science, IEEE Spectrum, and ABC News. For more about Bandit and elderly users, see: The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and BBC News.


Video: Human-Robot Interaction with Children with Autism"

A second video demonstrating what this robot can do can be found here.


Simon the robot

As director of the Social Intelligent Machines Laboratory at George Institute of Technology, Andrea Thomaz has led the creation and development of Simon, a robot designed to learn from humans the way a person would -- through observation, demonstration and social interaction, then respond through actions ranging from using social cues to doing a new task. Said Thomaz, "Our goal is for the robot to go beyond its machine programming to learn from a human who knows nothing about robotics and can teach it just as if he or she was teaching a person." 

Andrea with Simon

Thomaz, however, wants robots like Simon to do more than be able to learn and do. "With collaboration, we want the robot to be able to participate in teamwork activity with another human. Emotional intelligence is also important because emotions communicate a lot of important information needed for collaboration... You need to be able to tell when someone is overworked so you can help them out a little bit more." Thomaz also points out the need for a robot to understand a person's  intentions. "A lot of research shows that people are really good at perceiving people’s intentions and goals from their actions." On the right, Simon is seen with two of its designers, Nick DePalma and Andrea Thomaz. (Photo credit: Gary Meek/Georgia Institute of Technology)

For more about Simon, see: The New York Times, NOVA, Reuters, and MSNBC.

Network World: Demonstration of Simon the Robot