Over the summer my lab has been working on getting our new robot, Simon, up and running. We are pretty excited that he was picked to be on the cover of the Tech Review this month, for the TR35 issue!
Simon is an upper-torso robot with a socially expressive head. We designed Simon specifically with the notion of side-by-side human robot interaction in mind. We worked with Aaron Edsinger and Jeff Weber of Meka Robotics on the torso, arms and hands. A key feature of this robot compared to others we considered using is the size. It has similar body proportions to a 5’7” woman, and thus the size should not be intimidating for a person working with the robot. Additionally, the arms are compliant, a key safety feature for side-by-side HRI.
Designing Simon’s head was an interesting challenge. Essentially, we started with the size and constraints of the torso/arms/hands and worked from there. Given a body of this size, what is an appropriate head size, where should the eyes be placed with respect to the head, what should the overall “character” of the robot be? To answer these questions we worked with Carla Diana, who is now at Smart Design in NYC and was a visiting professor in Industrial Design at Georgia Tech last year. Over a few months (and lots of small scale prototyping on a 3D printer!) we arrived at the final Simon character. The face shape and feature proportions were chosen to reflect youth. Given that our research centers around learning, and people teaching the robot, we wanted the character of the robot to help set expectations about the level of intelligence.
Additionally, the robot has some non-human degrees of expression in the ears, which can move up/down, can rotate, and can change color (using an array of RGB LEDs behind a translucent plate). The design idea behind this is similar to another robot that I worked with, where having it be a non-recognizable creature helps to reduce the prior expectations that people will have when the begin interacting with the robot. For example, if it doesn’t speak that makes sense, but if it speaks that seems reasonable too. And getting away from the completely humanoid form helps to avoid the uncanny valley.
It is exciting to see Simon starting to come to life–we have several projects underway working on endowing him with some social learning skills, stay tuned for more on that over the next few months.