The KIST Sil-Bot companion robot? If there is one certainty in this world, it’s that its people will eventually all grow old. And for many enterprising companies, this represents a market that will never die out, figuratively speaking of course.
Since Honda released the Asimo in 2000, researchers in Europe and the United States have been busy developing robots with increasingly impressive (and as it turns out, lucrative) features. And like many other research centers, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) is turning its attention to developing human friendly intelligent robots, or cognitive robots that could act as companions or carebots for the elderly.
Seeing as the demand for future bots in countries that have rapidly aging populations will continue only to grow, the Center’s goal is to develop new intelligent agent technologies to provide human-friendly services for human beings. To do this, the center combines new technologies with traditional robot technologies.
The KIST Sil-Bot companion robot (a.k.a. H-robot) after the “silver generation” or the elderly, KIST’s brainchild (or brainbot, to be more precise) was co-developed with Seoul National University Medical Center. The penguin-like robot is 80cm (2’7″) tall and weighs a total of 90kg (198 lbs). Equipped with stereo vision, the robot can autonomously return to its charging station when it gets low on batteries, like the Roomba. The robot’s spatial camera system also allows it to navigate interiors without bumping into walls, or people.
The KIST Sil-Bot has a 12-inch monitor on its belly and a helmet-like face designed to be expressive, complete with blinking eyes and moving lips. It has typical face recognition and speech functions that allow it to communicate. It’s pretty efficient at this too; in fact some of the robots have been modified for use as tele-presence robots for English teachers, who appear on a video screen where the head used to be.
Another of the KIST Sil-Bot's most useful functions is its ability to detect its owner’s voice from up to 3 meters or 10 feet away. Once it does, the robot can autonomously move to that location, ready for interaction. The bot features simple conversational capabilities along with various interactive games which were specifically developed to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These games exercise the cerebral functions of the brain, e.g. memory, arithmetic, and reflex training exercises, as well as mahjong (which requires an optional touchscreen), and allow the elderly to continue being mentally active even when they’re alone.
The KIST Sil-Bot has seven microphones built inside its head that allow it to turn toward whoever calls its name. Amazingly enough, it can also recognize people by name. Even more impressive is that Silbot was built to read up to four different facial expressions and respond accordingly. If you look sad, for example, Silbot will approach you and say, “You look down. What’s the matter?”
Its expressive face can also change to suit different situations. In the mornings, the compassionate robot may also be programmed to wake you up with a simple, “Wake up. It’s morning.” Because Silbot is a “network robot” that uses information technology as its base, it can then proceed to give you the weather forecast, the news and tell you what’s on showing on TV. Is that neat or what?
The primary goal of the KIST Sil-Bot companion robotis to act as a constant companion that may help encourage the elderly to maintain active and healthy minds and bodies. This is motivated by the decreasing number of people skilled at taking care of an elderly population, as well as to ease the health care workload associated with the job.
Besides being able to play games, KIST Sil-Bot companion robot can remind patients when to take their medications and help them maintain a schedule. The bot has completed field trials at Masan Welfare Hall is currently being used as an educational assistant in Korean primary schools. The trials will then determine whether a national program will soon follow. Right now, an individual Sil-bot costs 40,000,000 KRW ($34,800 USD), but Prof. Kim Moon-sang, the center’s director, says the cost should come down with mass production.
“We plan on developing Sil-bot to include arm functions. By 2013, Silbot will have the ability to deliver food and perform other chores around the house. It will then cost between 10 million won and 20 million won,” Prof. Kim shared. The institute has either produced, or is in the process of developing 20 robots as of date. One of the KIST Sil-Bot companion robot's other robots is Ciros, who has two cameras built into its head for object recognition, and an arm which can grab items. Ciros’ main purpose is to help humans eat. They are also in the process of developing three humanoid robots known as Maru, who all have the ability to walk, grab objects and recognize humans.
“Most of the robots in development at KIST are for the purpose of creating intelligent robots that can provide services to humans,” said Prof. Kim.
Hope they remember not to make them too intelligent though, otherwise we’ll end up providing services to them.