Friday, 12 February 2016

Meet Alex

Meet Nadine, the terrifyingly lifelike 'social robot' that looks and acts like its owner and could one day work in your office

Behind the welcome desk at a Singapore university, a receptionist called Nadine is causing a stir. 
She has mousy, shoulder-length hair neatly parted to the side, remembers what you talked about last time she saw you and returns your greeting with a friendly hello. 
But there's something unusual about Nadine - she's the latest in a line of so-called 'social robots' that have personalities and emotions of their own. 
Nadine is touted as the latest in a new generation of robots, capable of conversing with people, adapting their responses and remembering previous conversations. 
The advanced robot is the creation of Professor Nadia Thalmann, director of the Institute for Media Innovation at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. 
According to Professor Thalmann, the humanoid has her own personality and is capable of displaying positive and negative moods and emotions. 
A video of the robot in action sees her answer questions from her creator in a pseudo-emotional computerised Scottish accent. 
'You are a beautiful and attractive social robot,' says Professor Thalmann. To which Nadine replies: 'Thank you. You look attractive too.' 
The android can also react appropriately to negative sentiments. For instance, when Professor Thalmann says 'I hate you', Nadine replies with a chipper: 'Tell me more about that'.

This new wave of social robots could ultimately be commercialised for use as personalised assistants in the workplace, and even as companions for children and the elderly. 
The technology could also be rolled out at much lower cost, by appearing on a screen or monitor. 
'Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics,' said Professor Thalmann. 
'As countries worldwide face challenges of an ageing population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future.' 
In addition to the lifelike Nadine, NTU is working on several 'telepresence' robots that could be used to carry out work remotely. 
Edgar is another of this team's creations. While Edgar doesn't have the human-like facial features of Nadine, it does provide a glimpse into the workplace of the future.
This type of telepresence robot can be controlled remotely by users from anywhere in the world. 
Users simply stand in front of a specialised webcam and their upper body gestures are projected by the robot.
In addition, their facial expressions can be displayed on the robot's face, in real-time.
Professor Thulmann added: 'Over the past four years, our team at NTU have been fostering cross-disciplinary research in social robotics technologies -involving engineering, computer science, linguistics, psychology and other fields - to transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans. 
She added: 'This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening.

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