Thursday, June 5, 2014

How Close Are We Too Robots In Our Homes?

I wrote this the other morning, 10 Reasons to Get a 3D Printer, and then came across this article on Intel's new Robot platform in the afternoon from a tweet by David Brin:
Here's a link to the video in the Intel and Trossen announcement about 21st Century Jimmy:

What I really got excited about with this is the idea of an open platform with some kind of app store where you can download apps that others have written. To me this makes sense and would push the robotics movement forward.

I can not see one company making the dream robot we all think of from movies. The reality is that robots are going to start and grow like this. Like the app ecosystems have grown for mobile. We just need the right robot platform with enough features that it apps make sense on it.

Somebody will write a program to talk about movies. Another will program a robot to write and speak gibberish Poetry (Haiku, Limericks, etc). Someone else is going to just port over the Fortune app and have their robot spit out random fortunes. Another will program it to play games.

I see this as a fantastic platform and something our kids will leap on. Think of downloading an app to this to act as a study coach/assistant for your child. Instead of asking their phone to look something u-p they will interact with their robot Jimmy.

Child, Joey: "Jimmy, tell me about Giraffes."
Image: Trossen Robotics
Jimmy: "Wikipedia's entry on Giraffes states...."

Or how about the child reading Jimmy a story and then am app monitoring this reading session doing analysis of the child's speech patterns and highlighting areas to the parents and their teacher where the child needs help? As well as analyzing the reading of the child, Jimmy could record it so the teacher or parent can double check the analysis or just sample how the child is doing when on their own.

A thing I have been learning with my kids as they undergo state testing here in Washington, is that auditory skills is a large factor in testing. For example, the teacher reads out math problems that the children must copy down and solve. How about Jimmy doing this instead? And the child writing onto a tablet which Jimmy can instantly correct. Then tracking the child's progress, retesting problem areas and highlighting the areas that need work to a teacher or parent.

I think the possibilities for this are endless.

I know that my parents generation will think this is crazy and so will some of my generation. But our kids have no reference point for what crazy is. If they form a bond with Jimmy, it has a modicrom of personality, and it plays games in between the learning, then they will eat it up.

The other thing I can imagine are the possibilities for customized learning. Your daughter likes Star Wars and My Little Pony? Then how about the math problems and reading tests have a slant towards rockets, space travel, and horses? Two spaceships are flying towards each other at...

Your son loves stories about Egypt? How about bringing the history of some of the math they are learning into context by highlighting the stuff the Egyptians pioneered? Geometry becomes a whole lot more interesting when you realized they invented this to solve real problems. A thing sorely lacking from school when I went through it was this direct connection to how and why disciplines of math were derived. This direct connection, I feel, makes the math come alive as you think about how they figured out the amount of grain they needed to store to feed their people.

Imagine if we could have a customized tutor for our children or ourselves? I know that Rubber Duck Debugging is a real thing and it a great way to work out a problem. As a programmer we sit for long periods without talking. Wouldn't it be nice to have your rubber duck be Jimmy so you can talk through problems with him and he can respond back. Even with small talk. Yes, I can see that being useful and enjoyable.

As for Jimmy, at an $1600 estimated price for the hobbyist model (the research model is $16,000), I can see this area blooming. Good on Intel and Trossen for opening up their platform to allow others to experiment with their robot. What we need is something like this that any developer can iterate on and build apps for. Then the potential of these robots can fly (but that brings up a whole other aspect, how open should they be).

I can't wait for see where they and the community take Jimmy.

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