The answer is JAMES -- Joint Action for Multimodal Embodied Social Systems, the work of the Munich Research and Transfer Institute for Software Intensive Systems (fortiss GmbH) in collaboration with a number of other European research institutions in Germany, the UK, and Greece.
While the robot does indeed fetch drinks, that's not the main reason for his development. Researchers designed the robot -- which stands about 4 feet tall, has a yellow, cat-like head, and greets his customers in English -- to experiment with robots interacting with humans in public spaces. JAMES can take orders and hand out drinks and also, like many human bartenders, deliver the occasional wisecrack.
JAMES, a robotic bartender, can deliver drinks and speak to customers in English. Developed by the Munich Research and Transfer Institute for Software Intensive Systems as part of ongoing research to create robots that can interact with humans, the robot can take orders and serve drinks, responding to commands from customers. (Source: The Munich Research and Transfer Institute for Software Intensive Systems)
To do these things, researchers built the robot with artificial intelligence that can fulfill specific tasks while also being aware of the social needs of the humans he serves, according to fortiss. This requires a programmed ability to analyze situations and come up with the correct behavior, particularly in dealing with more than one human at once.
Fortiss has posted a series of videos showing JAMES at work on YouTube. In one, he greets a customer with a friendly, "Hello, how are you today?" and responds to requests to deliver both a generic drink and a specific beverage of a customer's choice. He also encourages the customer to "enjoy" the drink after putting it on the bar.
In another video, JAMES shows an ability for more sophisticated interaction, letting one customer know he'll be with him in a minute before serving a drink to his friend who also approached the bar. He then addresses his other customer and serves the proper drink to him (watch the video below).
JAMES joins China's noodle-making Chef Cui, the Toyota Human Support Robot, and Rethink Robotics' Baxter as a new breed of robots that are designed to work alongside humans as helpers or to take over different tasks. While sometimes they may put employees out of jobs, many times they are taking jobs people don't necessarily want or are being designed to work with, not to replace, human counterparts.
JAMES likely won't be slinging drinks at an actual bar anytime soon, but researchers will continue to use the robot to observe and record how he interacts with humans to inform their current and future work, they said.
Even civil engineering, Chuck. I was recently talking with a civil engineer who explained the the sophisticated electronic grid of timing stoplights. Plus, some of the stoplights here in Albuquerque have cameras that catch red-light runners and speeders. So, everything is electronics these days.
This story also makes me wonder about the education of future engineers, Rob. Increasingly, we're seeing that engineers need to be versed in mechanical, electrical and electronic disciplines. This is especially true in the robotics industry. I think more college curriculums will need to be aware of this trend, and need to offer cross-displinary courses and majors.
Interesting points cadcoke5. You are quite right with your example (although some indication from the robot that it is ready to accept and input from a particular person might be desireable). From a socially acceptable viewpoint, it could even be said that giving a robot the respect that is given to a human (please, thank you, etc.) actually degrades humanity.
That being said, how many people enter search queries into their favorite online engine in complete sentences: "How do you..." "What is the...". I find that a waste as well.
These are all really good points, cadcoke5. Maybe you're right that we can abandon the usual niceities when interacting with robots and just cut to the chase, and that would make robots more efficient and useful to designers goals for them. However, I have to disagree that roboticists want to deceive people into thinking robots are human. Rather, I think they are trying to create them to be more helpful to humans through their increased ability to interact with them as intuitively as possible within the limits of their machine intelligence. Yes, it is not "social interaction" per se as we would define it as such currently, but perhaps those definitions are shifting as robots become more integrated into the every-day life of humans.
I have always been irked when people tout their robots as being able to interact socially. The robot in the video really doesn't care if you say hello, and does not need to be thanked. The eyebrows may pretend to convey emotion, but it is a lie.
Baby dolls that cry have been around a very long time. But, children, even from a very young age, understand that the object is a toy and not an infant needing human care. They understand the idea of playing pretend.
But, as robots have become more sophisticated, the ability to truly deceive people is now possible. Some roboticists seem to have deception as a goal, especially when it comes to a more vulnerable population with the subject of elder care.
I think there are genuine issues concerning interaction with people when it comes to planning how to make a robot understandable to people. They need to know what to expect, and how to communicate their wishes to the machine. But, this is not really social interaction; any more than putting a dollar into a vending machine is social interaction. Here is how the dialog should have gone;
Note that if robotic bartenders are not common, a sign nearby should say "Robotic bartender can accept voice requests. Simply state the beverage you want".
Man walks up to vending robot, "Give me a water." Robot, "Here is your water". Then the man leaves without saying anything.
All the "hello"s and "thank you"s are inappropriate.
Good point, Chuck. The robotic industry keeps throwing unusual -- and often primitive -- motion control functionality at the wall. Some of this is going to gain traction. The auto industry complains about the burden of unionized workers. These days they're turning to suppliers for more and more of the power train development and they're using robots for assembly. In time, automakers may become assembly and marketing companies with the assembly offloaded to robots.
Researchers have been working on a number of alternative chemistries to lithium-ion for next-gen batteries, silicon-air among them. However, while the technology has been viewed as promising and cost-effective, to date researchers haven’t managed to develop a battery of this chemistry with a viable running time -- until now.
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