My 7 year old daughter got to hold (an unpowered) Väino (bioloid) the weekend before last and her view on how Väinö (unpowered) is different from a doll or other toy sums up a lot of insight:
Väino is better because his arms don’t just drop
After a short conversation I understood what she meant. Because the robot has something like a skeleton, and there are tensions between the joins and moving the body parts gives an automatic resistance/inertia, it doesn’t feel like a doll or normal toy. It either holds a position (inspite of gravity) or slowly sucums to gravity (resisting as if it were muscled and tendoned and connected to a central nervious system). And moving it into positions has a resistance that’s a combination of the skeletal structure and the tension of the actuators. Of course, this is an unintended consequence (after all bioloids are meant to be powered to use them, and don’t play well with humans forcing them into positions when they are powered), but it was an animal or human -like consequence. And without any prompting, my 7 year old daughter stated unequivecly, that it is better because of this and implied that a young child will recognise this difference in an instant.
It may seem like a massive leap to now link this thinking to a game development utility. But this utility, Natural Motion’s Euphoria, almost explains the link entirely in it’s blarb:
euphoria represents a step change towards creating truly believable characters, worlds and games. Instead of playing back canned animation, euphoria uses the CPU to generate motion on the fly by simulating the character’s motor nervous system, body and muscles.
Fancy words aside, the demo video captures exactly what is missing from Väinö and, more importantly, seems to be missing from all “Social Robotics runtime environments” – a basic environmental and personal maintenance (survival and recovery) system that is constantly active during all other tasks, and not manually coded together with tasks. In this sense it’s more like an operating service for the character in question. Whereas euphoria adds its magic to game characters, a band of dedicated techie folk need to achieve the same for “human environment and interaction tolerant robotics”. And naturally, just the (immensely complex) physical maintenance operating system service is going to be easy compared to the social interaction maintenance system. If you understand what I’m getting at, you start to understand my vision for the operating system of social robotics (of the future of course). Like a PC OS, it’ll have to handle scheduling, upgrades, application additions, hardware and data resource access and handling, security and power usage (and the inevitable app store), but unlike a PC OS, it’s operating environment will be the real world and not a PC.
Roll the video…