Avatar technology is here - in the form of a dancing cellphone

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Ji-Dong Yim with Callo the cellphone robot

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Imagine if your cellphone could watch your arm movements, and physically recreate them in front of the person you were talking to. How about if it sagged and looked dejected upon receiving a “Dear John” text message? Perhaps it might be able to mimic movements that your caller was making with their phone. Well, scientists at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University have created cellphone robots that can do all those things, and more.

Ji-Dong Yim, a doctoral student in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, teamed up with Associate Professor Chris Shaw to design the robots. Their first creation was Cally, a 16-centimeter high robot built around a Nokia N82 cellphone. She was soon joined by a younger, more sophisticated brother named Callo. The siblings have arms, legs, and animated faces that appear on the phones’ LCD screens.

So, just what can Callo do? For starters, he’ll do a little dance to get your attention when you have an incoming call. That’s pretty simple. When he receives text messages containing commonly-used emoticons, however, he will “act out” those emoticons. A message with a =) results in a smiling face and a dance. An :O gets a more concerned expression accompanied by some arm-waving, and a :'( will result in him slumping his shoulders and crying.

If you want to get Callo to do a custom sequence of movements, you just grab Cally, move her arms and legs around with your hands, save the routine, then send it to Callo. The robots can also copy each other’s movements in real time, meaning that one of them will move their body parts as those parts are being moved on the other robot.

Using hand-tracking technology, Callo can also mimic your movements, at least as they pertain to your arms - this would be particularly useful in an “I caught a fish this big” -type conversation. He can also track faces, and will move around to keep your face on camera during a video call.

Yim and Shaw are currently developing more human-robot cellphone service scenarios, and more siblings for Cally and Callo. “We’re using them to explore ways in which we can help social robotic products, such as GPS, interactively communicate with people and build long-term intimacy with them” says Shaw.

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