Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Robot Companion

(and Concierge)

How long until you can have the kind of “droid” companions and helpers that Luke Skywalker, the poor farm boy from Star Wars, had? Luke could speak very naturally with C-3PO and get his help. C-3PO could listen and talk, but he could also walk and interact with his environment.

Siri for the Apple iPhone has shown us not only that natural language interaction with software is cheap and practical today, but that the technology can be applied as an “assistant” – Siri helps you get things done! Find your way, send a text message, listen to your music, and much more. With a little time to mature, that technology might become very sophisticated and very reliable.

A technology mashup that keeps occurring to me is the verbal interaction of Siri and the motion and interaction of emerging robots. Robots like the Nao from Aldebaran are becoming more capable all the time, and there are signs that costs are falling. Within a few years, a very capable robot will be commercially available and financially within reach of many.

Doesn't it seem very likely that some of these robots will be equipped to assist us in the ways that Siri does? Doesn't it seem likely that both the robot motion and the natural language interaction and assistance will improve fairly rapidly?

How long until you can have a robot companion and concierge, in your chosen (robot) form factor? A robotic parrot perched on your shoulder? How about a robot dog or cat following you around the house? Would a robot spider hanging from a thread over your desk suit you better? 

Now imagine that this companion is really very helpful and speaks in a voice of your choosing. Since software can be configured, let's imagine that the robot uses phrases that are appealing for you, and is as talkative (or quiet) as your own preferences dictate. Doesn't this sound like a helpful and pleasant companion?

Want to find a restaurant, call or text a colleague, check your calendar? Easy. Today's technology can do that. But there might be something satisfying about getting help from an assistant that is a self contained, mobile robot that appears to look you in the eye and knows you by appearance as well as by voice.

Maybe you’ll be able to have what Luke Skywalker had within just a few short years – but hopefully more capable and less neurotic when compared with C-3PO. 

What do you think? Would you want one? Please leave a comment and let us know.


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