The University of Calgary’s (UoC) faculty of medicine work on MEDi the robot helps reduce anxiety of kids getting flu shots appears in the Calgary Herland. On one hand, this is just-another-fun-funded-experimental-research effort using NAO (a nao jaffer – nao I need to find an acronym for “cake” ;)).
But, there’s a really amazing side to this: dumb machines can be fascinating if they have the right affordences. And this fascination can be used for a host of applications. Whereas the vague idea of “gamification” has done the rounds in research and futurist communities lately, the UoC case shows that a physically animated “agent” can be amazingly useful in existing activities without any need to train or prepare the users – kids just get the idea that a little robot guy is cool and way more worth attention than that hypodermic needle headed their way, or even the emotional games kids play with parents where the children are real experts (especially in that 5-9 years age range).
Okay, in this guise NAO is just a cool autonomous toy, or a dumb play machine (it may talk, but in this case is doesn’t need any sophisticated AI – the humans project all that for themselves). But as we add reflexive and cognitive feedback to these kinds of applications, this kind of natural human fascination with enchanting objects that share our work is going to be a very powerful force [reflexivity]. Maybe my awesome squeezebox isn’t the summit of the invisible computer, maybe humanoid robotics are the endgame for this disappearing and ubiquitous computing that much of the ITC research world remains enchanted by.