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Getting robots to move like people for better interaction

By

March 7, 2011

Michael Gielniak is teaching Simon to move more like a human

Michael Gielniak is teaching Simon to move more like a human

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As robots get smarter and more capable and make their way from manufacturing assembly lines to a much wider variety of applications, we will be interacting with them in more and more situations. Currently, robots tend to move with jerky, stop/start motions, which can make it difficult for humans, who are accustomed to the fluid and dynamic movements of other humans, to easily recognize what the robots are doing. In an attempt to create robots that can better interact with humans, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are getting robots to move in a much more human-like way.

Largely thanks to a generalization of research findings by researcher Albert Mehrabian, who conducted studies in the 1970's looking at the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal messages, it is a commonly held myth – often spouted at sales seminars – that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues.

However, Mehrabian himself has pointed out that his experiments dealt with communications of feelings and attitudes, both things that robots don't have – yet. Nevertheless, a lot of communication is non-verbal and the researchers at Georgia Tech say that developing robots that move in a more human-like fashion will allow them to better communicate with people and allow people to better understand how to approach them and how to interact with them.

To prove their theory the researchers programmed a robot called Simon to perform a series of human movements taken in a motion-capture lab. Instead of the usual jerky motion, they optimized the movements to allow more of Simon's joints to move at the same time and for the movements to flow into each other instead of being carried out in a start/stop sequence. The researchers then asked some human subjects to identify the movements Simon made.

"When the motion was more human-like, human beings were able to watch the motion and perceive what the robot was doing more easily," said Ph.D. student Michael Gielniak, who carried out the study with Andrea Thomaz, assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech's College of Computing.

The researchers also tested the algorithm they used to create the optimized motion by asking the human subjects to copy the movements they saw Simon making. They found that the subjects had a much easier time mimicking the human-like movements.

"We found that this optimization we do to create more life-like motion allows people to identify the motion more easily and mimic it more exactly," said Thomaz.

Thomas and Gielniak presented their findings at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Lausanne, Switzerland this week and now plan on looking at how to get Simon to perform the same movements in various ways.

"So, instead of having the robot move the exact same way every single time you want the robot to perform a similar action like waving, you always want to see a different wave so that people forget that this is a robot they're interacting with," said Gielniak.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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5 Comments

It would be a shorter trip to get people to move like robots. They are half way there already.....

DemonDuck
7th March, 2011 @ 07:46 pm PST

Just remember when our robot over lords subdue man kind this is where it started! :-)

mrhuckfin
8th March, 2011 @ 04:13 am PST

The comment: up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. makes me wonder what happens when you have a phone conversation. Need I say more?

windykites1
8th March, 2011 @ 02:41 pm PST

windykites1... "The comment: up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. makes me wonder what happens when you have a phone conversation. Need I say more?

comment "

what happens is, the fool runs off the road! but you knew that, didn't you?

seekertom
9th March, 2011 @ 08:20 pm PST

Interesting. Could have practical applications in cgi movie characters where each move has to either painstakingly made by an artist or motion captured by an actor.

Then they could just run a program!

Stuart Halliday
19th July, 2011 @ 05:53 pm PDT
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