MIT Media Lab births robotic weight loss coach


November 27, 2012

Autom's software can be upgraded and kept up to date through a monthly subscription

Autom's software can be upgraded and kept up to date through a monthly subscription

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While earning his PhD at the MIT Media Lab, Cory Kidd wanted to build a social robot that could have a place and function in the home. One of the potential applications was a lifestyle coach – a robot that you would interact with daily as you try to lose weight. Kidd built a prototype, recruited people for a study, and found that participants using the robot stuck to the weight loss program twice as long as those who used an identical program on a laptop – and that most felt that the robot was more credible than an animated character on the screen.

After graduating, Kidd decided to form a company and market the technology. Since 2008 he has set up shop in Hong Kong, hired designers to revamp the robot's hardware, and worked out the logistics of manufacturing.

The resulting commercial model – known as Autom – is much more compact than the prototype, and is compatible with the Fitbit pedometer and the Withings connected scale.

From a technological perspective, Autom isn't all that impressive. Beneath its perpetually smiling face, the robot is powered by six servo motors that control the head tilt, eyes, and eyelids. Inside one of the eyes is a camera, which the robot uses to recognize different members of the family. Users primarily interact with the robot through a touch screen which is mounted inside its stationary body. This displays daily questionnaries for tracking your exercise and meal plan. Simple though it may be, once Autom has been set up in your home, it's hard to ignore – people keep coming back to it, and thus stay on target with their weight loss plan.

Currently Autom speaks through text-to-speech, but does not have speech recognition software – that's still being worked on. These and other features will be downloaded directly to the robot through a monthly subscription.

The company is also offering a version of the robot aimed at developers who want to experiment with stuff like image and speech recognition. Developers can access an API that gives control of Autom's motors, camera, mic audio, text-to-speech, and the ability to mix and match these together. As we've seen with similar products, like the AISOY 1, developers may end up adding mobility and other features the robot was never designed for.

Dr. Cory Kidd, founder of Intuitive Automata, poses with his robotic weight loss coach Autom

After a troubled soft launch last year, in which the pricing details were unclear, the company is now raising funds for the production of Autom through an indiegogo campaign. According to the official website, shipping will begin in the second quarter of 2013 with pricing set at US$299.

The company's video pitch is below.

Sources: and MyAutom,indiegogo

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

I was on the control side of this study several years ago, and even though I didn't interact with the robot, it was amazing how much weight I lost when I was asked to pay attention to my caloric intake and write down what I had eaten.

Alan Mudd

Wow. Bravo to this dude. Next stage should be for the robot to see and recognise what you are eating and intervene!!

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