Toshiba’s R&D Center has unveiled a new version in their line of prototype household robots at ROBOMEC 2012 (May 27th~29th). The aptly-named ApriPetit is almost half the size of the previous prototype (see 2008’s ApriPoco), standing just 15 cm (5.9 inches) tall. It’s so small that you can easily hold it in the palm of your hand, so Toshiba is describing it as a portable robotic interface. That kind of close interaction has the side effect of facilitating better speech recognition. It can banter with you using a combination of speech recognition and text-to-speech software. Although the technology hasn’t been commercialized, the prototypes have found their way into a number of research labs.
At various times university researchers have toyed with adding mobility to the Apri line of robots (even adding serving trays to carry foodstuffs), but this one has been designed as a stationary tabletop robot. It has three degrees of freedom (torso x1, head x2) allowing it to swivel and nod its head, giving it simple but endearing expressions.
Given that this is a communication robot (one possible use is in home care reminding the elderly to take their medication), eye contact is considered very important. The ApriPetit’s enormous eyes contain functional stereo cameras, which can find and recognize faces and determine how close they are. The ApriPoco used a distance sensor to help determine a person’s proximity, but this has not yet been implemented in ApriPetit (perhaps due to its compact form). Other companies have explored similar devices, such as NEC’s PaPeRo-mini and RayTron’s Chapit.
Toshiba is considering possible applications including supplying the robot to cloud service providers, allowing various services to be piped to the home through the robot. It’s great to see that despite some 10 years of research Toshiba hasn’t given up on their “Advanced Personal Robots with Intelligence”. However, I must admit that I prefer ApriPoco’s overall shape and its cute little arms, which together make it look a bit like a baby turtle.
[source: Robonable (JP)]