Free Cultures Use Robots For Good

The entire world seems to be bubbling with the discussion of culture, as Governor Romney insightfully pointed out that economic divisions in the Middle East stem from the cultural distinctions between political ideologies.  I think his point could be best illustrated by how different cultures use technology to either better mankind or destroy it.  We are all familiar how an airplane that brings us closer, could also be used as a bomb. In recent weeks, the great modern cultures of Iran, Syria, Gaza and Lebanon have been using smart phones for terrorist plots.  Now the flip side, cultures that promote freedom use these same innovations for good causes across the globe, from Jerusalem, Israel (see previous post: Israel’s Great Robots) to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (below).

Some of the greatest academic breakthroughs in the robotics develop in the rich cultural environment of Carnegie Mellon University.  One original example of the way robots could help our most vulnerable is Inerbots autistic (robotic) helpmate, Popchilla. Popchilla looks like a goofy stuffed toy, but it is more than just a cozy sleep companion.  Popchilla is a robotic digital puppet that is controlled through a smartphone app.  The app displays different emotions with gameplay that helps autistic children better interact with the people by connecting emotions in a save practice environment.

Popchilla is the brain child of Seema Patel, CEO of Interbots who is targeting the new bot to parents and therapists of autistic children. According to Patel the robot already has a deep emotional vocabulary using LED lights to display emotions, such as “red means anger, blue means sad, green means happy,” even the goofy glow in the dark eyes have a purpose, “it draws the child’s attention to the robot’s face, something that autistic children can have a real problem with.” Patel is currently testing the concept of “social robots” at Carnegie Mellon University and Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute.

Personally, I am “green” with joy to see such novel approaches to robotics that grow out of our open CULTURE that freely exchanges ideas in the “pursuit of happiness.”


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