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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Robots with a friendly manner
Go Digital's Tracey Logan interviews Anthropos
Conversation tends to be rather one-sided
Researchers in the Irish Republic are looking at ways of making robots more lifelike, to make it easier for people to interact with them.

Their prototype, called Anthropos, is designed to overcome the barriers between robots and humans.

"It has two cameras for eyes, a speaker as a mouth and there are motors that control how it moves," explained Brian Duffy of MediaLab Europe in Dublin.

"It can perform gestures, move around and talk to you. It can understand what you say," he told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

Becoming human

The aim of the project is to use artificial intelligence to create a robot that is friendly and sociable, so that people forget they are talking to a machine.

Dr Brian Duffy of MediaLab Europe
Brian Duffy: Trying to make robots more human
"We are looking at how people interact with this robot," said Dr Duffy. "They have a conversation with the robot and say 'yes' or 'no' to questions."

His team have found that people will often start reacting to the robot, giving it almost human qualities.

"That can give us an indication of what mechanisms the robot can itself use to break down that barrier between people and robots," he said.

Blue or red hair?

A short chat with Anthropos suggested the researchers still have some way to go to make the robot convincing.

"I'm trying to get more people to believe in me," it said in a halting, robotic voice. "I am thinking of getting some glasses. It would make me look more intelligent.

"Do you think I should wear such glasses? Would I look better with blue hair or red hair?" it asked.

But even with blue hair, the conversation ended up being one-sided, with Anthropos ignoring a lot of the responses.

High-speed 'nervous system'

The robot uses a speech recognition/synthesis system called Festival. It has been developed by Carnegie Mellon University's speech group which aims to create new synthetic voices.

Its "nervous system" is based on Firewire computer technology.

This high-speed data transfer network runs throughout the robot, allowing the researchers to plug in peripheral devices.

The MediaLab team is also working on creating robots with emotions. So far, it has developed some robots that appear to be afraid of the light.

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