The age of the ro­bot has dawned

THREE OF THE BEST: FANCY A ME­CHAN­I­CAL PER­SON AS A TOY IN YOUR HOME?

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - CITY - Arthur Gold­stuck

A cen­tury af­ter the term ‘ro­bot’ was coined in fic­tion, the au­toma­tons have fi­nally gone main­stream. In the first of a se­ries, Arthur Gold­stuck meets a trio of hu­manoid con­sumer ro­bots.

Ifirst met Pep­per the life­sized ro­bot waiter at a con­fer­ence in Hun­gary last year, and was smit­ten. As soon as he/she/it greeted me with the words, “Hello, hu­man”, I was cap­ti­vated. How­ever, I knew it would be many years be­fore I would meet my new friend in a lo­cal restau­rant.

But what about Pep­per’s smaller rel­a­tives? What about hu­manoid ro­bots de­signed for ed­u­ca­tion, en­ter­tain­ment and ser­vice in the home, of­fice and school? Back then, they seemed just as dis­tant. But sud­denly, they walk among us.

It was al­most ex­actly a cen­tury ago, in 1920, that the term was first coined by Czech writer Karl Capek in his sci­ence fic­tion play, R.U.R. – short for Ros­sum’s Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots. Since then, fic­tion has mostly treated these con­struc­tions as a threat to hu­man­ity. Now, the tide has fi­nally turned.

If there’s such a thing as an en­try–level for ro­bots, this is the starter model, but you’d have to go on­line to bring it un­der your con­trol. It costs a mere $42 from Gearbest, al­though ship­ping adds $14, but for a to­tal that is still un­der R1 000.

For that, you get an “in­tel­li­gent com­bat ro­bot with multi-con­trol modes”. These modes in­clude send­ing in­struc­tions via a hand­held re­mote con­trol de­vice, touch­ing its head, shak­ing its body and – most star­tling of all – ges­ture con­trol. While that is ex­pected in higher-end ro­bots, it is rare to find a ges­ture sen­sor in a bud­get ro­bot.

The clue that this is about fun rather than ed­u­ca­tion lies in the word “com­bat”, but Cady Will ac­cepts rudi­men­tary pro­gram­ming. One can set se­quences of move­ments, sounds, and ac­tions, rang­ing from walk­ing and slid­ing to danc­ing and singing.

This means that, even while used ex­clu­sively as a toy, it ex­poses one to the prin­ci­ples of ba­sic pro­gram­ming.

This doesn’t mean one needs a think­ing cap for en­gag­ing with Cady Will, though. The re­mote con­trol is clearly la­belled, with in­struc­tions like Right hand Up, Turn Left, Speed Up, Dance, and Mu­sic.

Cady Will prob­a­bly per­son­i­fies the phrase, “bang for your buck”.

TO­DAY, ONE CAN BUY RO­BOTS OFF THE SHELF, OR ON­LINE. IT SEEMS THAT ONLY BUD­GET DIC­TATES THE LIM­I­TA­TIONS OF WHAT THE GAD­GETS CAN DO, SAY OR SING. HERE ARE SOME OF THE MOD­ELS I’VE RE­CENTLY TESTED, PRE­VIEWED, OR EN­COUN­TERED: Cady Will

Al­pha 1 Pro

At the op­poste end of the scale, a ro­bot that is both taller and sleeker than Cady Will, Al­pha 1 Pro, will set you back R8 499, or the price of a mid-range smart­phone. For that, how­ever, you get a de­light­ful ed­u­ca­tional and en­ter­tain­ment tool. Con­trolled via an app – An­droid or iOS – it fea­tures nu­mer­ous built-in modes, moods and con­tent.

Yes, the oblig­a­tory Gang­nam Style puts it through its dance moves, but then it fea­tures a col­lec­tion of songs, an ac­tion-ver­sion of the story of Troy, and bed­time sto­ries.

If those aren’t enough, mu­sic can be played through the Al­pha 1 via Blue­tooth.

Demon­stra­tions of ex­er­cises, yoga moves and mar­tial arts turn the ro­bot into a coach and gym part­ner.

The key to a ro­bot’s move­ments is its servo mo­tors, and Al­pha 1 packs in 16 high pre­ci­sion ser­vos, and can ro­tate 180 de­grees.

As with Cady Will, ba­sic pro­gram­ming comes in the form of record­ing ac­tions in se­quence. How­ever, true pro­gram­ming is also in­tro­duced, us­ing a vis­ual pro­gram­ming lan­guage called Blockly.

Man­u­fac­tured by UBTech, it is dis­trib­uted in South Africa by branded tech­nol­ogy spe­cial­ist Gam­matek.

UBTech Cruzr

At the dis­tant high end of the scale, a cor­po­rate an­swer to Pep­per has ar­rived in the form of Cruzr. It is de­scribed by UBTech as “a cloud-based in­tel­li­gent hu­manoid ro­bot” de­signed for both in­dus­trial ap­pli­ca­tions and do­mes­tic en­vi­ron­ments.

Taller than the av­er­age hu­man, its key fea­tures in­clude an 11.6” touch screen, flex­i­ble arms, fa­cial recog­ni­tion, video record­ing, nav­i­ga­tional map­ping, video con­fer­enc­ing, and sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties. That makes it ideal for any­thing from se­cu­rity to re­mote em­ployee in­ter­ac­tion and data col­lec­tion. Com­bined with cus­tomis­able ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions.

A two-chan­nel stereo speaker and a cam­era with depth per­cep­tion rounds out the mul­ti­me­dia fea­tures. A sen­sor ar­ray in the head, along with one Li­dar sen­sor, six sonar sen­sors and 12 in­frared sen­sors, make it not only good at avoid­ing ob­sta­cles, but po­si­tions the Cruzr as the state of in­ter­ac­tive ro­bot art.

It has be­tween five and eight hours bat­tery life and when it runs low, it au­to­mat­i­cally re­turns to its self-charg­ing dock.

Pic­tures: EPA-EFE

BEAU­TI­FUL BOT. Mu­rata Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co.’s Mu­rata Cheer­leader ro­bots per­form dur­ing the CEATEC (Com­bined Ex­hi­bi­tion of Ad­vanced Tech­nolo­gies) Jap­pan 2017 ex­hi­bi­tion at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, east of Tokyo.

ID PLEASE. A man in­ter­acts with ro­bot on Guangzhou Baiyun In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Ro­bots are placed on the air­port as a probe, they can scan pas­sen­gers’ ID cards and pass­ports, and give in­for­ma­tion about flights.

SIL­I­CONE SHIP­PING. Au­to­mated sort­ing ro­bots carry pack­ages at the ex­press sort­ing cen­tre of STO Ex­press Tian­jin com­pany in Tian­jin, China.

CUTIE. Hu­manoid ro­bot EMIEW3 is dis­played at the Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Govern­ment (TMG) build­ing in Tokyo.

GREEN LIGHT. Vis­i­tors look at ro­bots on dis­play at the China Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Hi-Tech Expo (CHITEC) in Bei­jing.

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