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Robot Teleoperation for Everyone

dylan-glas's picture

[Nara, Japan] In a televised demonstration at the Nara City Tourist Information Center on December 15th, researchers at ATR's Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories unveiled a prototype system enabling elderly operators to control a conversational robot over the internet. Laboratory director Norihiro Hagita explained that the target of the system is to enable people with limited mobility, such as retirees or parents raising young children, to easily engage in part-time work using teleoperated robots. The system was developed as a part of the Ubiquitous Networked Robotics project, sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan.

The teleoperators in the demonstration were members of Suzaku, an association of retirees who act as volunteer tour guides in the Nara area. One operator was located in Nara and the other at ATR in Kyoto, and they took turns controlling a Robovie R-3 robot. As visitors interacted with the robot, it spoke, gestured, and pointed to answer questions, give directions, and tell entertaining stories about famous sights in Nara, such as the Great Buddha at Todaiji temple and the deer in Nara Park.

As the target operators were not assumed to be computer experts or fast typists, the teleoperation system facilitated fast operation by using a database of utterances that the operators had created for the robot. A specialized interface enabled appropriate utterances to be retrieved quickly based on the topic, context, and history of the interaction. In cases when the operator needed to take the time to type in a new utterance that was not in the database, the robot automatically inserted filler phrases such as "hmm, let me think," to make the conversation timing smoother. The new utterance was then automatically added to the database for future use.

This demonstration marked the beginning of a series of field trials and laboratory experiments intended to identify the real-world requirements of such a teleoperation system, and to test new techniques for making content entry and teleoperation easier and more accessible to non-technical operators.