A couple of days ago, I was one of a small group of people who went to Secret Robot House, an event hosted by LIREC, (LIREC is a research project exploring how we can live with digital companions, mainly in the form of robots, in the years ahead). It was a fascinating evening, mainly because though robots are something that I have been interested in for a while now, this was the first time I actually saw a live demonstration.
Nicolas Nova from Lift Lab gave a presentation about robot fiction which I’m embedding below. From evoking a sense of nostalgia (Rosey the robot from the Jetsons cartoons that I used to watch as a kid) to the present (Nabaztag) and the future (the robot demo we saw that day), it was a very interesting summary of the relationship between science fiction and engineering research.
Patrick Bergel, a Research Fellow at UCL who was also part of the group who attended, asked why humans don’t stop research into robotics for a few years to allow technology to catch-up with what we want to do. Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn, whose presentation followed Nicolas’ with a more technical explanation of the LIREC research project, responded that it was because the project was a moving target. Technologies keep changing and evolving every day and so, therefore, does their research. I suppose that’s true of any project involving technology nowadays – at the most, you can hope to achieve a part of what you set out to do because the rest would have altered substantially by the time you get to your deadline.
I was also struck, as Nicolas said, by the meaning we have now come to attach to the word ‘android’ – one automatically thinks of the operating system. In fact, when you do a Google search, the literal meaning of the word, which is ‘possessing human features’, comes nowhere in the top 10. How times have changed.
Anyway, here’s a small clip of the Sunflower robot that I took at the event. There are also some photos in LIREC’s Flickr group pool.