Posted by: robotnews | March 24, 2006

Rock-a-bye baby robot

Yan Meixian U0205044
Making robots look like humans or animals is nothing surprising anymore. Living things especially human beings have such a complex structure that it is a never-ending challenge to reproduce the various aspects of it such as its emotion, its facial expressions, its flexibility in physical motion etc. So it seems to me that most of the time, the robots that makes the news headlines are those which mimic the human beings in the most life-like manner. A very good example is Asimo.

I guess a reason why people choose to produce life-like robots is because they would like the robots to be their personal companions. Facing a robot which indicate some form of emotion seem more pleasant than facing a lifeless and hard machine, especially if that robot was meant to be a toy.

iRobot Corporation produced a super-realistic interactive life-sized human baby toy, known as My Real Baby (MRB) with the purpose of giving young children a very stimulating play experience.

The MRB comes with high-tech animatronics and emotional response software, so each doll has the ability to change its face in numerous different ways allowing it to convey its emotions to the child playing with it. The first generation of the MRB, known as IT, could already shake hands with people, smile if anyone takes his picture, and gets frightened if people get too close to him.

The second generation, BIT, used behavioral language and could also sense if he’s upside down or not and express that he doesn’t like the feeling of being inverted.

The MRB features a range of real and virtual sensors which iRobot did not give any details about. The previous generation used 5 electric motors and had orientation, reed switches, a microphone and a light sensor but the MRB did not seem to have all of these. The doll changes its emotion using the Behaviour Language Operating System (developed by Rodney Brooks of the the MIT AI Lab and Cog fame). The behavior model that of a real baby very well. If it is not fed it, it gets hungry and cries. If it is fed, burped and rocked to sleep, it will stop crying.
Here are other amazing stuff that the MRB can do. It can change its facial expression rather adeptly like moving its lips, cheeks and raising eyebrows. It can also blink and suck its thumb and bottle. The doll has a great collection of different baby noises and words and can randomly combine them. What I find more amazing is that the longer you play with the doll, the more it starts to piece sentences together in a coherent fashion, just like a real baby.
A reviewer of the doll played around with it. The doll could giggle and gurgle and respond well to tickling and being burped on its back. If left untouched, the baby would sleep till it is given a gentle nudge to wake up. The reviewer then tried to be “mean” and make the doll cry, but he did not succeed since the manual stated that the MRB does not respond to aggressive behavior.

It seems quite an ideal toy for young children since it does not encourage violence. But the idea of having a life-like baby may have a bigger scope than just being toys. If we let wild ideas run, maybe one day, the robotic baby may be so realistic that couples who can’t have kids may choose to adopt a robotic baby just to get an idea of what parenthood is about.
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Responses

  1. Well, personally I do not think that a robot child can replace any human child, because robot children will always remain, uh, children. Humans grow up, humans learn things like how to walk, how to eat, how to dress, how to answer nature’s calls the right way. A robot can never do all that (in the near and not-so-near future). Think AI (the movie).

    This might be a good start though. A start to making robots that are ‘humanlike’.

  2. This post has been removed by the author.

  3. U0205119 Ek Li Ling

    Personally, I do not really approve of dolls that are too human-like. I guess the movie Chuckie, the evil doll had a lasting impression on me.

    This opinion also lies for robots created for other purposes. For example, I would prefer a robot that looks like the robotic nurse escort Pearl in Chung Chan Lee’s post, as compared to the robot featured in the post titled ‘not for the weak-hearted’. I can relate entirely to the title. I may seem old-fashioned, irrational or paranoid, but it will take a while, before I accept such a human-like robot within the walls of my home.

  4. U0300637 Choo Peng Yeow

    I was quite curious when I see the title of this blog. I was thinking of a robot that could help rock a baby to sleep (a real one that is). This came to my mind because making a active baby to sleep was a tedious and time exhausting event. However, when I open the blog and saw two ugly robot baby developed to play with real babies…. I just can’t imagine how the real baby could react. Think the real baby would just hit, bite and suck the robot baby. Hahaha…

    Anyway, I think that the technology does not contain much “WOW” for me since because I have seen much life-like robots developed by Japan and they could do more sohisticated task than the baby.

  5. creepy looking creatures !

  6. u0303819 Ang Yong Chee

    “iRobot Corporation produced a super-realistic interactive life-sized human baby toy, known as My Real Baby (MRB) with the purpose of giving young children a very stimulating play experience.”

    I supposed the robot dolls are intended as toys for small children. While it might be a good idea that to have a sophisticated toy for the lonely child while the parents are busy , i worried about the adverse effects that the doll might have on the child .

    Firstly , the impressionable child might really “believe” that the doll is a real “human friend” . Gradually ,the child will lose out to children are playing with other children , because he/she is not exposed to the many situations that only human interactions will bring about . The robot doll can only provide limited scenarios for the child user , much less in stimulating the communication and thoughts processes of the child .

    And furthermore , the doll does “not response to aggressive behaviour ” , the young child might gradually get used to ill treating the doll robot without knowing that such behaviours will not be tolerated by another human companion .

    nothing can replace having (a) real human playmates , esp for young and impressionable children

  7. s0500296 Martin Wiig

    While the robot babies will not replace human children (in the near, not-so-near and hopefully far future), as Chew Jiean Qiang pointed out, maybe sometime they can serve as a “training child”, giving childless couples the opportunity to experience something akin to having a real child, helping them to make the final decision on wether or not to get one. Of course, with a real baby, you can’t just take out the batteries when it refuses to sleep at 4 in the morning:P

  8. U0205183 Teo Yinling

    I think its useful for parents-to-be. To “practise” to take care of their future children. And let them have a feel of how its like so that they will know how to handle the situations when they have their own children. It can also be used as “actors” for movies and drama serials since it will be really hard for a real baby to cooperate.

  9. U0303270 Quak Yeok Teck

    I must say this is a very cool development. It seems that technologies has managed to put reaction abilities with robots, even though it’s a toy, but it can provide a simple companion to babies.
    Perhaps we can explore the ability as such toys can take on the tole of a nanny as well, helping parents look after the children, or have live feed videos to inform parents of their child’s activities now.

  10. U0205025 Diana Gobeawan

    Hmm could such robot baby cause a decrease in the world population? Currently a lot of childless couple resorted to keeping pets and treating them just like their own child. Some of these couples simply did not want the trouble of having children because they are career-minded and have no time to care for any children. Of course, these robotic babies are not able to completely behave like real-life babies as yet, but when the time comes, could these busy parents switch to having robot babies for a family? If these robots could really learn to talk and behave, I think they could make much better companion than pets simply because they speak human languages. And they probably make more obedient kids!

  11. U0204951 Xu Lixia
    I would think that this toy is suitable for parents-to -be to practise for not for kids to play.Can you imagine the consequence is the toy is spoilt ans starts to grab teh child’s hair or something?haa..sorry me too got the deep impression from chucky…
    But in real fact,i do not think babies need this kind of toy.If ther is a need for them to play with babies,parents could bring them to playgrounds to play with real kids and from there learn how to interact with people rather than playing with robots.I would be worried if the kid has become used to talk with the robots and when he grows up,he would continue to talk with the robot only and refrain from talking to real human beings.Wouldnt that be more scary?

  12. U0308353 Chua Xiaoping Shona

    The title of this blog caught my attention. I thought that a robot is used to rock the baby to sleep. Anyway, I think it is quite useful for parents-to-be. Given a robot baby to have hands-on practice to take care of their future children.

  13. U0205109 Wu Jinjia

    This is a very well written piece. The title you chose and the way you describe really grabs my attention.

    As for the robot wise, it simply reminds me of the movie AI. Especially when u mentioned that it can replace a child for those couples who can’t have kids of their own. But I guess behind every technology, there’s certainly a controversial moral issue.

    On the other hand, this technology is indeed a beginning to the future world we see in movies. Perhaps one day we’ll really be living in a place where robots walk among humans. Similar to those in i-robots.

  14. u0308279 Chan Hwa Huei
    I think this is a great toy for children. Kids always like to play make-believe with toys, and having a life-like robot baby like this will definitely provide for a more enjoyable experience for the kids. However, I don’t think it is good childless couple (who are not childless by their own choice) to use such a toy to “get an idea of what parenthood” is about. I think it would be much better for them and the society if they adopt a real child instead. This way, the adopted kid will get to experience family warmth, and the parents will get to experience true parenthood.


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