What We Need Is More Robots

May 24th, 2013 3 Comments

If you’ve seen intermittent connectivity issues this week, apologies, should be resolved now.

I think we can all agree that robots are fascinating. So, when Misha (@mishavaughan) mentioned a robot project, I was immediately interested.

Ludovic Vignals has an Aldebaran Robotics NAO humanoid robot. I know nothing about robotics, but NAO sounds pretty cool. Ludovic decided to experiment with his NAO and has programmed it to read the news.

Why? Because he can. I have to say, I found the robot’s snarky commentary about being ignored to be funny, which makes sense, given the Nao robot also does stand-up comedy.

Enough with the background, how did Ludovic do this?

In his words:

USA Today offers a free (capped volume) API access to some of their daily content. I think they mentioned somewhere on their site that the SOAP API has or will be discontinued so using their REST API is the best choice. Before getting access to the API you will need to go to USAToday.com to request an API access as they don’t allow anonymous connections and they want to know what you are using the API for and also get you to agree to their usage policy.

After receiving an access key, the steps are pretty standard:

1. Request credentials to connect to USA Today
2. Establish a connection to api.usatoday.com
3. Decide what information you want to retrieve
4. Format the query string and issue a GET command, e.g. /open/articles/topnews/home?count=10&days=0&page=0&encoding=json&api_key=foo
5. Parse string into JSON object or parse JSON formatted string directly into native object of the client programming language you are using
6. Iterate through the news and related fields as needed

Ah the beauty of RESTful APIs. Next, Ludovic used Choregraphe, the IDE provided by Aldebaran, to program the robot to read the news.

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Beyond the cool factor, the NAO could serve as a personal assistant, reading notifications, reminding you of appointments and to-dos, processing commands and taking actions. Think Google Now type features but with an audible reminder.

I really like Google Now, but I struggle to remember to use it. If the NAO simply reminded me that I have to leave now to make an appointment, based on traffic conditions, that would be useful. Have you ever been late to a call because you were heads-down on something and forgot the time? Me too. Sure, calendar sent an email reminder, but you ignored that because you were busy.

Add a service like Twilio into the mix, and you could use the NAO to send texts and place calls for you.

The thing about notifications is they typically arrive via email and tend to get lost among all the other email you get. Sure, they’re important, but you might not need to take immediate action, or you’re busy ignoring email. Having the NAO audibly remind you to approve expense reports or take action on transactions waiting for you would be valuable.

The whole point of an assistant is to remind you to do stuff, and the NAO opens new possibilities for automating reminders.

Obviously, there are a lot of other, more compelling use cases for a humanoid robot, and we’ve only scratched the surface here. Kudos and thanks to Ludovic for sharing his work. I’m stoked to see what else he can build. Stay tuned.

Find the comments.


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3 Responses to “What We Need Is More Robots”

  1. joel garry Says:

    When I talk to Lying Julie (the Amtrak voice robot) I find I have no compunction against just interrupting her with the next command.

    When I’m in an office with certain people who claim to multi-task, I notice that I’m often ignored.

    At my terminal with a dozen windows open, I miss email notifications (because I had to turn the sound off, too many unimportant ones).

    I think a reminder robot will be too easily ignored. Even Tony Stark did that.

  2. Jake Says:

    @Joel: Life is a constant struggle to keep oneself reminded whilst concurrently ignoring reminders.

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