Media Innovation Labs’ Greeting Machine isn’t exactly what you would expect a social robot to look or act like. It won’t speak to you in any fashion, won’t fetch weather reports, or tell you when you’re running out of coffee. It doesn’t do anything beyond conveying a simple greeting, but that’s the idea behind the robot — to see if it could evoke human responses without using any verbal cues, but only simple gestures and nothing else.
The Greeting Machine is about the size of a volleyball and features a 3D-printed outer sphere that houses sensors and a pair of Dynamixel MX-12x motors that drive an arm with a neodymium magnet positioned on the end, which moves a ball bearing with an injection molded exterior. The arm and sensors are controlled by a Raspberry Pi Model 3 that is programmed to generate eight different greetings (or gestures) in two categories — approach and avoid.
In the approach group, the steel bearing moves to a position that can clearly be seen by the person nearing its location, while the avoid group positions the ball behind or on the side of the larger sphere, signifying its dislike of the person.
The Media Innovation Labs’ engineers tested the Greeting Machine using several volunteers and found it was well received in its approach setting, with people reporting that they felt accepted by the robot. As you could imagine, those encountering the avoidance setting reported they didn’t care for the robot’s greeting, or rather lack thereof, feeling the bot turned its back on them.
The engineers feel the design of the Greeting Machine, in all of its simplistic form, will help usher in a new generation of low-cost, less complex robots with increased flexibility in the way they’re designed.