In April, I moved to the Emirates, in a robotics laboratory (IRML) near Dubai.We have been doing work on human-robot interactions, and we have also been exploring how social information can be used to make them more meaningful. The project is called Facebots, carried out by Nikolaos Mavridis, and funded by Microsoft's External Research. Mr Mavridis, is an MIT-graduate Medial Lab) and the founder and the director of the IRML laboratory of the University of the UAE. His innovative research lies in the intersection of virtual and physical worlds, and the lab he manages is the most advanced in the region and perhaps one of the best globally. Here are some highlights the work we did, which might be extended in subsequent posts.
First there was the first Arabic speaking interactive humanoid robot, which was programmed as part of a senior project in UAE. Our robot, was able to understand a set of keywords and perform a simple pre-scripted interaction with gestures and facial expressions, and all of this in Arabic. You can watch a demo of this interaction in the following video:
Second, in the Facebots project, Facebook was used in order to build rich and meaningful interactions. For example, the robot was able to harvest data from Facebook and gossip with humans, about mutual friends present in Facebook or in real life. In a spin-off project, we researched how social information, like friendships, can assist face recognition tasks. The idea is that we tend to co-exist with friends in our photos. Results were encouraging and were published in relevant papers. Some of the prominent visitors in our lab, which also interacted with Sarah Mobilero, the little Facebots robot, were Shankar Sastry, Dean of Engineering at Berkeley, or the Ambassador of Canada in the UAE.
Both projects received some pretty wide media coverage, most notably with BBC's report on the Ibn Sina humanoid robot. You may find the BBC article here. In addition, several newspapers covered the Facebots story with The National, offering the most precise version in its UAE-wide pages. The article exists online and can be found here.
Now, I am preparing for Harvard University, where I will be taking some graduate courses in Computer Science in the Fall term, and hopefully make the way for a graduate degree in CS or Applied Mathematics. Before moving to Boston though, I hope to recover and to be done with all the catching up, because come to thing about it, there are much more to say!