What happens when Softbank’s humanoid robotics meets IBM’s Watson and joins hand with a group of young Indian brains and their socially sensitive teacher guiding them with IBM funding their work. They develop an Indianised version of the Japanese robot with a Watson brain to provide assistance to senior citizens.
Not just Japanese and Europeans need this, even aging Indians too could end up using robots in their day-to-day lives. So Softbank’s 2-feet, 5-kg humanoid robot, NAO, gets Watson’s software and becomes Chintu with the ability to do things like sit, stand, dance, listen, see, think, connect and even feel emotions. The idea is to make it work as a personal assistant and companion to senior citizens.
The department of computer engineering of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT), Pune, bagged a research grant from IBM. Softbank already has its next generation robot called Romeo which is being developed to provide assistance to the elderly. But the MIT team comprising Vrushali Kulkarni, professor and head of computer engineering department, and her final year students — Rishav Dasgupta, Astitva Shah, Sanketh Gupta Chellu and Krishnamohan Manmohan — are making the earlier version of NAO to perform tasks using Watson operating system.
So Chintu will be able to read newspapers or books, generate reminder for daily medication, search the internet for relevant information, convert text in to speech and even provide mood-based entertainment services.
Mezjan Dallas, University Relations leader, said IBM was doing a lot of work in the area of cognitive computing and Watson, IBM’s cognitive computing platform, has been used widely in the financial sector. But in India they were looking at the healthcare and education segment applications.
“We are looking at co-creating innovation and giving them the Watson to play with and come up with new ideas,” says Dallas. IBM is working on customizing Watson for various domains, he said.
IBM Watson has already tied up with Manipal Hospitals to assist oncologists while treating cancer patients. It provides doctors with clinically relevant and actionable insights to help doctors in taking decisions, he said. And through these university projects they are taking new technologies to the colleges and they get to use Watson at such an young age, Dallas said.
“Apart from the money to buy NAO for R6 lakh, IBM gave us access to the Watson API’s and IBM’s cloud platform, Bluemix, to develop Chintu,” says Kulkarni.
“To start with, the robot prototype will do some minimum task and we will keep optimising it. In future it could start taking instructions in Indian languages and she intends to continue working with next batch of students.”
IBM is also working with Rice University to develop a prototype robot for assisting the elderly. The IBM Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (IBM MERA) is being tested. MERA is equipped with cameras to read facial expressions, sensors to capture vital signs and Watson-powered speech recognition to know when to call for a help.
IBM created the prototype robot with students and faculty from Rice University’s departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Psychology, and it is being hosted inside the IBM.
Running on the IBM cloud and a Softbank Pepper robot interface, IBM MERA uses IBM Watson technologies. Pepper is the next generation robot after NAO, which was developed in 2006. Around 10,000 units have been sold so far.