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

[slideshow 1]

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.

[slideshow 2]

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.

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