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March 16, 2011

BehindTheMedspeak: RIBA the Robot Nurse

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Excerpts from a post on KurzweilAI follow.

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RIBA the Robot Nurse, developed by the Human-Interactive Robot Research program — a joint collaboration project by Japan's RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries, Ltd (TRI) — is a prototype nursing-care assistant robot. RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) is the first robot that can autonomously lift up or set down a real human from or to a bed or wheelchair. RIBA, the "soft" robot, does this by using its strong, humanlike arms and a novel tactile guidance system with high-accuracy tactile sensors.

Much has been said about the engineers' choice to make RIBA a cuddly teddy bear, rather than a humanoid nurse. The robot's developers analyzed this issue carefully.

"We adopted a clean and friendly appearance for RIBA, similar to that of a giant white teddy bear, because a mechanical appearance would not have suited nursing-care situations and a humanoid appearance may cause psychological discomfort to the patient."

"About research for determining the appearance, we just asked people at RIKEN and Tokkai 'which one is your favorite?' among some choices. You can see the choices in the picture [below]. The teddy bear type [far left] got the highest votes."

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Among the choices proposed for RIBA's appearance, people preferred the teddy bear. Surprising? Maybe not. Research has shown that the more humanoid a non-human entity (like a robot or a virtual person) appears, the more unsettling it can be to the real people interacting with it. This psychological phenomenon is called the "uncanny valley." It means that when virtual people appear highly unrealistic, the humans interacting with them suspend belief and enjoy the interpretation — a caricature of life. But when you cross the realism threshold, making the virtual people or robots seem "almost but not quite real," the audience feels revulsion.

Regardless of why, it's clear to robot designers that people feel more comfortable interacting with a non-threatening toy, cartoon, or pet-like character — softening our reflexive distrust of a robot's inherently creepy, autonomous, non-human intelligence. It's no wonder next-generation helper robots making their way into our hospitals, parks, and home environments look more like Short Circuit's "Johnny 5" than "Bishop" from Aliens.

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RIBA's basic specs: The robot uses tactile sensors with 128 sensing-elements for each upper arm and 86 sensing-elements for each forearm; has 4 sensing-elements per hand; 2 vision sensors; 2 microphones; one DC motor; one NiMH battery; weighs 400lbs and can carry a tested payload up to 134 lbs. (Images: RIKEN-TRI Human-Interactive Robot Research program)

March 16, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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