IU’s R-House Studies Human-Robot Interaction in Close Quarters

An offshoot of Indiana University's School of Informatics has created a home which could one day see humans and robots living and working side by side.

  • WooferMop Poster

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    A poster inside R-House touts the benefits of the WooferMop.

  • WooferMop

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    A prototype of the WooferMop, a combination between a shaggy dog which will play fetch and a Roomba vacuum cleaner.

  • The Sleepwalker

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Kurt Weisman shows off a poster advertising his robot, the Sleepwalker.

  • Sleepwalker Schematic

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    An explanation of The Sleepwalker, which could allow tasks to be completed while the wearer is asleep.

An offshoot of Indiana University’s School of Informatics has created a living arrangement which could one day see humans and robots living and working side by side.  A Friday open house showcased a five-bedroom home on the north end of the IU campus which will soon be outfitted with cameras and microphones to track how scientists and robots live together.  The robot house, or R-House, is run in part by professors Kris Hauser and Selma Sabanovic, who began by hosting a competition to see which group of students could create the most innovative project.  Santhosh Kumar is on a team working to teach a robot to play chess.

  • Chess Setup

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Though all eight pieces are pawns, Santhosh Kumar tells the robot to move one labeled a bishop...

  • Moving the Pawn

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    ...but in order to move a bishop, a pawn must be moved out of its way first.

  • Moving the Pawn

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Once the pawn is picked up, it is moved one space forward...

  • Placing the Pawn

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    The robot's programming knows the rules of chess, so it understands a pawn's opening move may be either one or two spaces forward.

  • Grabbing the Bishop

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Now the bishop has a clear path to move.

  • Moving the Bishop

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    The robotic arm is only 3-4 months only, so it's still shaky as it moves pieces from one space to another.

  • Placing the Bishop

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Now the bishop has made its move, but this isn't its final destination...

  • Resetting the Arm

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    So the arm resets itself to plan its next move...

  • A Second Bishop Move

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Now the arm picks up the bishop again...

  • The Final Move

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    ...and places it in its final location. Checkmate!

Kurt Weisman has come up with an idea he calls The Sleepwalker — a gray contraption with a conductive metal surface on the inside that looks a little like a tiara you’d slip over your head before going to bed.
“When you go to sleep, it senses that you’ve gone to sleep and then sort of dulls your senses so you don’t feel anything,” Weisman said. “And then takes over your motor cortex to go out and do things you wouldn’t normally want to do, like say you don’t want to do the dishes.  So just do it while you’re asleep.”

Then there’s the WooferMop, which Selma Sabanovic explained is based around the idea of an existing robot, the Roomba.

“This cute creature is going to follow a ball, so if the child throws the balls, this goes to fetch.”

And the yellow felt which covers the pint-sized vacuum cleaner and is made to look like a shaggy dog then cleans the floor until the kids get done playing with it. The house’s inhabitants will also conduct research with existing robots, like Paro, a Japanese invention made to look like a baby seal which is used for therapy…

“Under its white, fluffy fur, Paro has a sensor net, and so it can actually feel which part of its body you’re touching,” she said. “And it also has sensors in its whiskers.”  But when she touched those whiskers, Paro whined in complaint.  “And it doesn’t like this,” Sabanovic added.

Sabanovic says the team plans to begin using Paro this summer to study reactions to it by an elderly American audience and then compare those with results from a similar study in Japan.  From that comparison, she says, it’s hoped best practices can be developed for using robots as therapy.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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