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Old 11-23-2006, 03:10 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Beginning of the end...

Scientists try to make robots more human By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
Wed Nov 22, 11:07 PM ET

George the robot is playing hide-and-seek with scientist Alan Schultz. George whirrs and hides behind a post until he's found. Then a bit later, he hunts for and finds Schultz hiding.

If that sounds childish, consider that Schultz is working his way up to teaching the robot to play Capture the Flag.

What's so impressive about robots playing children's games? For a robot to actually find a place to hide, and then hunt for its human playmate is a new level of human interaction. The machine must take cues from people and behave accordingly.

This is the beginning of a real robot revolution: giving robots some humanity.

"Robots in the human environment, to me that's the final frontier," said Cynthia Breazeal, robotic life group director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The human environment is as complex as it gets; it pushes the envelope."

Robotics is moving from software and gears operating remotely Mars, the bottom of the ocean or assembly lines to finally working with, beside and even on people.

"Robots have to understand people as people," Breazeal said. "Right now, the average robot understands people like a chair: It's something to go around."

The researchers who are injecting humanity into robotics are creating robots that can connect with humans in a more "thoughtful" way. They are building robot receptionists and robot physical therapists. They are finishing work on Huggable, a teddy bear robot line that will help monitor the mental and physical health of sick children for only a few thousand dollars apiece. Robots are coaxing autistic kids out of their shells. And there's a cute penguin robot, Mel, that makes eye contact with people and nods when they talk.

The places we will first see these robots are in the most human-oriented fields those that require special care in dealing with the elderly, young and disabled.
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