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MIT eggheads build 'human-robot relationships'

With Pixar style desk lamps, cyber-teddies, and droid flowers

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An MIT doctoral candidate has produced a robotic desk lamp, though its maker prefers to call it a "collaborative lighting assistant", or even "non-anthropomorphic robotic platform".

See the Flash video:

New Scientist reports that the robo-lamp is the brainchild of Guy Hoffman, a member of the Robotic Life Group at the MIT media laboratory ("three of the coolest cultures i* have ever had the honour to be part of").

The Robotic Life Group says: "Exciting future applications for robots require them to play a long-term role in people's daily lives...and long-term human robot relationships.

"Taking inspiration and guidance from the science of animal and human behaviour, our goal is to build cooperative robots."

Apart from the e e cummings-like Hoffman, the Robotic Life Group is led by Cynthia Breazeal, who says she is "internationally known for seamlessly blending scientific theories, artistic insights, and engineering principles to create compelling robotic creatures".

These robotic creatures include Leonardo, a furry gremlin-esque animatronic job described by the MIT eggheads as "the Stradivarius of expressive robots". Presumably they mean that the robot is the violin, though it's built by the Stan Winston Studio in this case rather than Antonio Stradivari.

"It is our challenge to give Leonardo a computational brain that is worthy of its body," say Dr Breazeal's team. Judging by the pic, the brain out of a Tamagotchi ought to do fine.

The team is also at work on "Huggable", a "robotic companion" based on Butterscotch Bear™ from Gund, Inc. The cyber-ted is meant to "benefit hospitalised children, the elderly, and other people in need". By giving them a bit of robot love, presumably.

Other outrages perpetrated by Breazeal's gang include "Cyberflora," which "combines animal-like behaviour and flower-like characteristics into a robotic instantiation* that senses and responds to people in a life-like and distinct manner".

All in all, it seems safe to say that the MIT media love-bot collective leads the world in academic cyber lunacy; and that's an intensely competitive field. ®

*Verbatim. No, really.

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