The Future’s Human Face


Manage episode 303210523 series 66750
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(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Fabienne Cap, and used with permission.)

“I’m still as in love with this profession as I was on my first day. It’s so cool,” says Furhat Robotics Solutions Engineer Dr. Fabienne Cap.

And what she’s doing is especially so.

Furhat Robotics have created the world’s first social robotics and conversational systems platform. Their robots can actually make people forget they’re talking to a machine! And there are several reasons why this happens.

First, the Furhat robots’ faces can be customized to become any character. Gender, ethnicity and age can all be changed.

After the introduction of a new face engine, just a few weeks ago, these social robots’ faces can move in even more lifelike expressions as they speak.

They can also communicate in more than 200 voices, in over 35 languages, according to Furhat’s website. Or, they can even be customized with a user’s own voice!

Furhat’s mission: to revolutionize human-machine interactions. Their robots have almost unlimited applications. They can give travel directions, become anime characters for special events, teach language lessons, offer health screenings, provide on-the-job training…

Actually, the possibilities are limitless. But they all have the same objective: to put people at ease, through their interactions with these very “human” robots.

Pioneering robot, serendipitous name

Now, why the unique name?

Well, according to Furhat Robotics’ blog, it was serendipity.

Their robotic prototype premiered at the London Science Museum. At that time, the prototype was “a plastic face, but no skull”. Cables were protruding, distracting attention from what the creators wanted to emphasize: the face.

But, a student had forgotten his hat at the office, that cold, wintry day. It was–you guessed it–a fur hat.

Inspired, the creators slipped the hat onto the robot. A perfect fit, it disguised all the cables–so spectators could focus on the face.

And visitors to the museum began referring to the robot as “the robot with the fur hat”.

The name stuck.

Today, Furhat Robotics continue to break new ground, with technology geared towards creating human connections. And they have a free virtual conference on social robot interactions, coming up on October 14th! Here’s the link for registration.

Fabienne explained social robotics, discussed some of the ways Furhat Robotics is implementing their social robots into daily life, and shared a free resource for educators.

On this edition of Over Coffee®, we cover:

  • How Fabienne’s professional background in languages led to her current work in robotics;
  • A definition of a “social robot” and the concept behind it;
  • Furhat’s current pilot programs, using their robots in educational applications in Stockholm;
  • Some of the programming applications for classrooms;
  • A closer look at the myths surrounding the use of robots into the classroom;
  • What it’s like for Fabienne, in her daily creative work with Furhat Robotics;
  • Some of the use cases (present and future) where the Furhat social robot can be highly effective;
  • A look at a landmark experiment done by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, updated this year with two Furhat robots, in which Fabienne participated;
  • The next steps, for the Furhat social robots, in integrating them more into daily life;
  • How the robots’ faces can be customized (hint: the possibilities are endless!);
  • And, an exciting free resource for educators (it’s OK if you download it but aren’t yet in a position to buy a robot!)

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