The Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) is a government-backed research institute in South Korea. In December of 2003, they unveiled a humanoid-like robot called ETRO that could read. The robot relied on the Linux operating system and used computer vision (and its stereoscopic cameras) to identify faces, letters, and objects.
If you held a book or any written words in front of its face, it could recognize them and read them out loud using a text-to-speech synthesizer. It could perform simple operations via voice command (such as retrieving traffic or weather related news from the internet), and was also capable of repeating set phrases (“Excuse me, sir, hello!”). Although not specified, the robot appears to have a number of ultrasonic range finders around its midriff, which suggests it had some simplistic obstacle avoidance functionality.
The robot served as an ambassador for the institute at museums and ETRI showrooms for several years following its unveiling. According to a researcher at the institute’s Internet Computing Research lab, ETRO’s IQ is 40 (though he didn’t explain how they came to this number), and its technology could be transferred to commercial products, such as guide robots for the visually impaired or household pet robots.
In March 2011, ETRI unveiled a completely new version of ETRO that would make its first public appearance at Daejon’s National Science Museum from April to June. It was one of several real robots that interacted with museum visitors to showcase robotics as a key growth engine for the Korean economy. There were also Japanese karakuri ningyo, and robot toys at the exhibit. The new ETRO responded to people nearby with simple phrases and changing facial expressions (through its RGB LED array). For example it told visitors, “I love you!” and showed red hearts instead of its “eyes”.
This version features more complex arms than its predecessor, as well as an omnidirectional mobile base, ultrasonic sensors, and PSD sensors. Rather than stereoscopic cameras, the robot has a single camera located on its chest. It contains embedded boards built specifically for image recognition, speech recognition, and speech synthesis, commissioned from a supplier called WithRobot. Although, somewhat surprisingly, none of the articles about it claim that it can read! Images, and a video of the 2nd model of ETRO can be viewed after the break.
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