The Sydney Morning Herald

Smokey and the circuit: boffins want robot to interact with humans

Author: Nicky Phillips TECHNOLOGY
Date: 09/10/2010
Words: 585
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 12
SMOKEY the bear has already developed a love of the colour red. Whenever he sees it he gets excited. The Sydney robot is part of an ambitious project to bring a machine to life.

While many researchers are focusing on developing robots that move like humans - jumping, running and climbing stairs - a team at the University of Technology, Sydney is trying to develop a robot's mind so it can interact with people.

"A helpful robot in your home looking after your parents or your children while you are at work will need to respond to all kinds of unexpected situations," said computer scientist and research leader, Mary-Anne Williams.

"The only way it can figure out what to do is if it can interpret its own experience." For this to become a reality, robots will have to be able to think for themselves. The first step to bring Smokey - who takes the shape of a plastic bear - to life is to ensure that he can notice and respond appropriately to cues in its environment.

This was a significant challenge, Professor Williams said, because the robot must decide what it should pay attention to and what it should do next as it interacted with people in complex and unpredictable situations.

To overcome this a computer science student, Rony Novianto, also at UTS, has developed a highly sophisticated computer system, ASMO, that endows a robot with basic skills it can use as building blocks to perform complex tasks.

"We have [given it] lots of little behaviours that are then glued together to make more complex behaviours on the fly in response to what captures the robot's attention," Professor Williams said.

The next challenge is to give Smokey emotions. Humans used emotions and feelings to make sense of a situation, to fine-tune intuition and to make decisions about what to do, she said.

"That's all a robot does, make and enact decisions. But one of the hardest things to model in computers and robots is getting them to understand subtle differences in context."

The researchers believe emotions will allow robots to make better decisions and interact more effectively with humans. To try to develop emotions in a robot, Mr Novianto programmed Smokey with a set of innate characteristics similar to personality traits that are imprinted in a human's DNA. These allow Smokey to develop emotional responses to objects.

Mr Novianto said Smokey had become interested in red objects, so when he saw one he became excited and focused his attention on it. "Using innate characteristics he can develop behaviours over time as he interacts with people and objects, creating a unique personality according to his own experiences."


Asimo Developed by Honda. Probably the most advanced humanoid to date.

It can walk, climb stairs and run (awkwardly).

Albert Hubo Developed by South Korea. It has a head that looks like Albert Enstein.

It has voice recognition and can make facial expressions.

Mahru Also developed in South Korea. These robots are pretty advanced too - they can recognise faces, and prioritise tasks.

Charli-l Developed by Virginia Tech in US.

At the moment it can only walk, but the researchers aim to soon have him jumping, opening doors and kicking.

Smokey Developed by UTS scientists, including Rony Novianto, pictured. It is not strictly a humanoid robot, but the scientists are using it to explore what it means to be human. It can recognise its favourite colour red, and gets excited when it sees it.

Back  Back to Search Results
Fairfax Digital Privacy Policy | Conditions of Use | Member Agreement | Copyright