As engineers move closer to developing robots that perform human tasks, many are asking: How human do I want this robot to be?
During the opening keynote of the recent Freescale Technology Forum (FTF), Freescale's medical segment marketing manager, David Niewolny, demonstrated an on-stage application of a communications robot. The robot enabled a patient in bed to talk to his doctor via an onboard video screen.
The robot, designed and built by VGo Communications Inc., doesn't look human. Rather, it's a two-way audio-video communications platform on wheels. No legs, no arms, no head.
Tim Root, the chief technology officer and co-founder of VGo, said VGo's non-human form was intentional. "We wanted it not to feel intimidating. Our approach is that form follows function. We spent a lot of time making it look appealing, but we didn't want it to be a humanoid."
Indeed, VGo's design places function first. The robot, which serves as an avatar of sorts, enables a remote driver to communicate with others over an audio-video connection. The driver can use his or her laptop computer to remotely steer the robot, operate the onboard camera, or just talk to people over an Internet-based link. It employs four microphones for better audio, and a small display to enable others to see the driver's face. But there's not even a hint of humanness.
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