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Nexi: The MDS Sociable Robot

The MDS robot Nexi, a joint effort by Xitome Design, UMASS Amherst and the Personal Robotics Group at MIT., explores the spectrum of emotion in human-robot relations. This is something that has not often been on the forefront for robot developers, most of whom choose to focus on the mechanics of movement instead.

As Nexi explains in the video at the end of this post, she (I guess we can call her a “she”, judging by the voice) is mobile, dexterous and sociable. She has a torso, arms and head which she can move around fairly flawlessly, though is only the size of a three-year-old child. And for good reason—I don’t think we’re quite ready for a “grown-up” version of a robot that can get “angry and confused” at the world or its developers.

Nexi demonstrates in the video her ability to display human emotion. Besides being angry and confused, she can also be bored, sad, excited and happy. The robot can simulate these emotions by moving her eyebrows and mouth in a rather convincing manner. Her giant blue eyes help quite a bit too. Nexi is available for retail sale, but will mostly be used at universities and laboratories for further research on human-robot relations.

While the MDS robot will provide for an interesting study, scientists are still quite far from engineering a robot that can not only simulate these emotions, like Nexi, but also be capable of “feeling” them. We are yet to perfect our knowledge on what makes humans tick, so it is understandable that robot-human relations are still quite superficial. When you look at the robot making a sad face, however, it doesn’t really matter whether you know she’s really not feeling that emotion or not. Superficiality does impact humans more than some are willing to admit, and Nexi stands as a good testament to that.

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Posted in AI & Robotics.