The Week's Best Robot Videos: Teaching a Machine To Talk

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 22 2012 5:15 PM

The Week's Best Robot Videos: Teaching a Machine To Talk

Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. Seen a great robot video? Tweet it to @FutureTenseNow, or email us.

This week, we see a robot learn to speak and a plane that works its way out of a tight spot.

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The Babbling Bot
DeeChee the robot doesn’t just look like a child; it’s learning to talk like one, too. Computer scientists at England’s University of Hertfordshire are using the robot to get a better understanding of how humans learn to speak. At “birth,” DeeChee was given most of the syllables used in the English language, and a series of people spent time talking to the robot to teach it to speak. As humans talk, DeeChee tracks the number of times different syllables are used. It then uses the more common sounds to recognize words, which it can then speak. There are still plenty of stray syllables and nonsensical sounds, like any young child, but unlike humans, DeeChee keeps a statistical record of the syllables it hears and speaks, so researchers can collect hard data about language acquisition.

The Tactile Bot
It’s fairly easy to get robots to see and hear the world around them, but getting machines to feel—and we’re talking tactile sensation, not emotions—remains a challenge. A team from the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California created this sensory system, called the BioTac, to help robots gather information about the things they touch. The sensor is designed much like a human finger. It has a soft skin on the outside (complete with fingerprints), the skin is filled with liquid, and there’s a rigid bonelike structure at the center. The result is a machine that can tell the difference between 117 different materials with 95 percent accuracy.

Via Time.

The Dodgy Bot
For all the amazing things flying robots can do, just about any obstacle can knock one out of the sky. Last week we saw a robot that could get itself back in flight after falling down, and now we have an impressive demonstration in avoiding obstacles altogether. Inspired by the way birds navigate crowded areas, researchers at MIT and Harvard created this plane that senses objects in its path and performs aggressive maneuvers to dodge them. As explained in the video, the plane can fly through gaps smaller than its wingspan, and even manage narrow spaces in quick succession. The bot only takes quick flights in the video, but with any luck we’ll more from this project in the future.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Adam Sneed is a researcher for Future Tense at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @atsneed.