Anyone who's had to take on job responsibilities from someone who left the company months ago will appreciate this robotic system designed with the International Space Station (ISS) in mind. With the design challenge of retaining important experiential information between rotating crews of astronauts, French researchers used the popular Nao robot to form an "autobiographical memory" of human interactions and pass on the know-how to new crew members.
Led by Peter Ford Dominey, the team at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research chose the Nao humanoid robot because its programmable platform makes it one of the most evolved robots available on the market. With the system, humans can teach the Nao new actions through directly manipulating its joints, allowing it to mimic them by capturing their movements via a Kinect, or using voice commands. The Nao stores these interactions along with the context, such as who else was involved, when it took place, and a video of the demonstration.
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In a video of sample interactions (shown below), a technician first teaches the Nao some basic interactions, like how to hold a smart card, and creates a plan for repair by syncing up commands and instructions for the Nao, including tipping its head forward to record the interaction. He then proceeds through a sample repair with Nao's assistance.
Later, another technician, purportedly seeking to learn how to carry out the same repair, plays back the instructions, with the Nao prompting the technician if they need more information and providing video from its perspective of the initial technician performing the repair.
"Was it successful according to you?" prompts Nao, attempting to confirm that each interaction proceeded as intended.
From a robotics perspective, this is different than simply providing predetermined sets of instructions, as the human and chronological component provides important context, such as might be relayed through two human technicians being able to consult with each other.
Better systems for interacting with robotic assistants are becoming more relevant to space travel as Robonaut 2 is permanently serving aboard the ISS as of 2011. Faster and stronger than previous dextrous robots, Robonaut 2 is similar to the "helper" envisioned by the NAO/human interaction. And with space travel being constrained to short time periods for the foreseeable future, and the Robonaut 2 being the only link between rotating crews, sharing gained knowledge becomes an important link in not reinventing the cogwheel.
The team is hoping to test their Nao robot in zero gravity, but back on terra firma, Dominey envisions aiding the elderly as a personal memory assistant as another potential use for the system.
The team's research was presented earlier this month at the International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication in Kobe, Japan.
The video below shows Nao learning to repair a smartcard.