The University of Southern California’s Interaction Lab developed an expressive humanoid robot platform called Bandit back in 2004, which was then updated with the help of BlueSky Robotics in 2005 with Bandit 2. The robot has a mobile wheeled base with a laser range finder for navigation, but is primarily a humanoid upper torso complete with an expressive face and two arms with grasping manipulators. The Interaction Lab, led by Dr. Maja Mataric and her team, maintains six Bandit 2s which are used to study human-robot interaction, imitation learning, and therapy.
Despite being one of the first researchers to work with swarm robots back in the late ’90s, Dr. Mataric had an epiphany after having children: she no longer wanted to work on robots that weren’t beneficial to society. This has also had the side benefit of attracting more women to robotics (normally under-represented in the field) who were interested in socially relevant projects.
Their goal is to build socially assistive robots that can assist the elderly, patients recovering from stroke, and children with social disorders such as autism or ADD. This would place robots in homes, hospitals, and schools to give one-on-one care that can’t be provided by limited human resources – a far cry from the killer robots developed for the military, and a brighter outlook for the future of robotics.