Robo-hugs for Woz

Steve Wozniak is the inventor of the Apple I and Apple II. In early January, he visited our research lab to meet our robots.

Steve Wozniak receives a hug from a PR2 robot

In the photograph (by Srinivas Madhisetty), my software is giving Steve Wozniak a hug by a PR2 robot.

The software is inspired by a package called pr2_props.

I re-wrote pr2_props for autonomous demonstrations and lab-visits. Instead of performing fixed actions on command, it performs six “social” behaviours:

  1. It engages you with eye-contact.
  2. If you try to take a photo of it, it waves and says a greeting.
  3. If you hug it, it hugs back.
  4. If you stop hugging, it also stops.
  5. If you put up your hand for a high-five, it responds with a matching high-five.
  6. When hands meet in a high-five, the robot detects the ‘collision’ and pulls back.

The surprising thing about these simple behaviours is how much they achieve in engaging visitors. In particular, the eye-contact conveys a sense of “lifelike vitality”. The other behaviours give the robot a sense of purpose and intention. Combined, the effect is extraordinary: a robotic equivalent to the ELIZA effect.

It certainly seemed to engage Mr Wozniak.

Published 1 February 2014 by Benjamin Johnston.