Nov. 12 - German scientists have taught a humanoid robot to find its way by asking for directions from people in the street. Fitted with Fitted with an array of cameras and sensors, the automaton represents a significant step in the development of robots that can intergrate with society. Jim Drury has the story.
IURO is a robot on a mission....it's attempting to find its own way home. Scientists in Munich have programmed the wide-eyed android to ask people - in its native German - for routes to various locations and act on them independently. UPSOT: IURO SAYING IN GERMAN: "I am an autonomous robot, I can ask people for the way and follow their directions." An acronym for Interactive Urban Robot, IURO was built by researchers at universities in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. They've programmed the automaton to recognise humans and spatial surroundings. Co-developer Dirk Wollherr.... SOUNDBITE (English) PROJECT MEMBER AND CO-DEVELOPER AT TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY MUNICH, DIRK WOLLHERR, SAYING: "This robot has a much more refined ability of communication. It has a kind of multi-modal interaction, there is the pure verbal interaction, there is the ability of showing emotions and also of showing and reading gestures." IURO has stereo cameras in its forehead and a sensor which creates depth perception. It has a built-in touch screen interface while laser range finders prevent collisions. It can follow up to five separate basic commands - such as turn left, turn right, or go straight ahead. Once it believes its journey is complete it will ask someone if it has arrived at the correct destination. IURO's developers say that, barring malicious or wildly inaccurate advice, it can correct its route and will ultimately arrive at the right place - so long as it doesn't run out of battery power, which lasts for up to six hours. The researchers' earlier, less handsome, version of IURO toured the city three years ago, but attracted less attention from passers-by. The new model has moving eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, lips, lower jaw, and ears, all actuated by servo motors. Its creators believe such features make the public more receptive. UPSOT: IURU SPEAKING TO BYSTANDERS SOUNDBITE (German) PASSER-BY DOMINIK KOLISCH, SAYING: "I find it quite nice. It also talked to me very naturally and also used expressions like 'emm'. It was interesting that it understood me, even though I talked with an accent." SOUNDBITE (German) PASSER-BY VIVIKA CARLSON, SAYING: "I think it understands my words, but I'd prefer someone who understands me fully. And I'd also like him to be able to do something useful for me." Wollherr says IURO and the overall project have a serious long-term goal. SOUNDBITE (English) PROJECT MEMBER AND CO-DEVELOPER AT TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY MUNICH, DIRK WOLLHERR, SAYING: "It's not about developing a commercial product, but it is really about investigating fundamental abilities like interaction with humans and action, navigation in dynamically changing environments, that means: navigation amongst humans on a sidewalk. Our long-term vision maybe is to develop robots that can actually act and interact in human environments like your private household, where it helps you in undesired tasks." And so far, he says, IURO is proving that a future where humans and robots co-exist in daily life might be closer than most people imagine.