NTU scientists unveil social and telepresence robots
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With further progress in robotics sparked by technological improvements in silicon chips, sensors and computation, physical social robots will become more visible in offices and homes in future
Nadine, a humanoid with her own personality, mood and emotions, is the latest social robot developed by scientists at NTU. The doppelganger of its creator, Prof Nadia Thalmann, Nadine is powered by intelligent software similar to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana.
A humanoid like Nadine is just one of the interfaces where the technology can be applied. It can also be made virtual and appear on a TV or computer screen, and become a low-cost virtual social companion.
Prof Thalmann, the director of the Institute for Media Innovation who led the development of Nadine, said these social robots are among NTU’s many exciting new media innovations that companies can leverage for commercialisation.
“Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics. As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future,” explained Prof Thalmann, an expert in virtual humans and a faculty from NTU’s School of Computer Engineering.
Nadine’s robot-in-arms, EDGAR, was also put through its paces at NTU’s new media showcase, complete with a rear-projection screen for its face and two highly articulated arms.
EDGAR is a tele-presence robot optimised to project the gestures of its human user. By standing in front of a specialised webcam, a user can control EDGAR remotely from anywhere in the world. The user’s face and expressions will be displayed on the robot’s face in real time, while the robot mimics the person’s upper body movements.
Such social robots are ideal for use at public venues, such as tourist attractions and shopping centres, as they can offer practical information to visitors.
Led by Associate Professor Gerald Seet from the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and the BeingThere Centre at NTU, this made-in-Singapore robot represents three years of research and development.
“EDGAR is a real demonstration of how telepresence and social robots can be used for business and education,” said Prof Seet. “Telepresence provides an additional dimension to mobility. The user may project his or her physical presence at one or more locations simultaneously, meaning that geography is no longer an obstacle.”
Credit: Nanyang Technological University