BIG-i listens to voice commands and has IFTTT functions
The best gifts sometimes come in the humblest packages.
Chinese-based startup NXROBO’s finger-shaped home robot, BIG-i, is one such example. It may have an unassuming aesthetic, but BIG-i offers a myriad of functionalities that might make it an indispensable companion to the household.
Its creator, Dr Lam Tin Lun, is a veteran in the robotics industry. His research covers a wide range of robotics studies including field robotics, human-machine interface, novel mechanism design, and intelligent control. Between 2012 and 2015, he served as the director of the Intelligent Robotics Research Centre, Smart China Research (Hong Kong Branch).
In addition, his tree-climbing robot Treebot, built in 2012, caught the attention of NASA, which is studying its design principles for future Mars exploration plans.
And now, with the development of BIG-i, Dr Lam has turned his attention to the consumer space.
“I believe that robots are born for human and everyone should have right to enjoy the benefit of robotic technologies,” says Dr Lam, in an interview with e27.
“That is why we [the NXROBO team] created BIG-i. We aim to make it enter every home, and act as the bridge between family members. BIG-i will bring care to your loved ones. BIG-i takes charge of small daily grind so you are released to enjoy every precious moment.”
The appearance of the BIG-i is deliberately simple.
“We designed the robot with ease and warmth in mind. We want the robot to integrate into your family and not look outrageous,” says Dr Lam.
And that is achieved through its soft lining fabric covering and modest shape. In addition, all of its sensors and its camera are packed into a pupil-shaped object at the top.
And, it moves in a natural manner too, similar to a normal eye. This human touch is designed to make the robot more approachable to users.
“The eye is an important way to send messages between animals. The size of your pupils change depending on what you see, and that itself sends a message,” says Dr Lam.
Its mobility functions are also unobtrusive — are neatly tucked away within its tower.
Even careful consideration was taken into making that the robot was at the right height. Too high, and it may look too menacing (certainly no one wants a Terminator in their house); too low, and users will develop a backache trying to talk to it.
Underneath the chassis
The real magic of BiG-i happens underneath its hood. Its pupil-shaped houses a whole array of smart sensors.
Its camera tracks people’s motion and recognises faces, and detects luminance levels; its other sensors measure humidity, air pressure, touch and even gravity levels. It also has 360-degree microphone to recognise voice commands — in English and Mandarin.
Besides sensors, BIG-i’s other IoT functions enable it to be connected to various smart devices such as smart TV, music players, lights, heaters, etcetera.
For mobility, BIG-i relies on its “collision avoidance sensors” to plan out the optimal path to move about — it can even automatically dock itself at charging stations.
What all these fancy tech means is that users can issue orders to it such as IFTTT (If This Then That) commands.
For example, if BIG-i detects that the user has left the room for a certain amount of time, it can automatically switch off the television.
With face recognition, a user could programme BIG-i to play a certain song when it detects his or her face. Or, if a user leaves the house, he or she can set up BIG-i to issue voice reminders when their loved ones return home earlier.
Additionally, BIG-i can augment smart devices.
Take, for example, a cold room scenario. A smart heater might automatically switch on itself when it detects a drop in temperature. But with BIG-i synced to it, it can tell the smart heater that there is actually no one occupying the room at the moment, so heating is not necessary.
Cleaning robots will also become smarter. Most robots rely on only collision detection to work out the best cleaning path, but when synced with BIG-i, the cleaning robots can sync with its camera function for more accurate optimisation.
For parents worried about kids getting lonely during summer holidays, BIG-i can serve as an artificial companion. It can recite books, play games such as hide-and-seek, and also allow parents to stay connected with the kids (although, in my opinion, kids should be roughing it outside, but that’s beside the point).
Machine learning plays an important role in BIG-i’s longevity. Dr Lam says it is designed to “fit in your lives automatically.”
Thus, NXROBO comes with its own app store. Dr Lam says existing operating systems (OS) are not adequate for robotic functions.
“Traditional desktop OSs are not suitable because they require a keyboard and mouse; mobile OSs cannot be used either because they rely on multi-touch and the display device’s output.”
“We created a brand new robot operating system so that it can accommodate body language recognition, voice recognition, and other gestures perfectly.”
Eventually, as more apps are developed for its OS, BIG-i will be able to react to virtually all situations in any home according to user’s specifications.
NXTROBO’s team of 20 are currently funding the project through Kickstarter. It has already raised US$104,000.
So, for individuals or families looking for an artificial companion to help around the house and play with you — and won’t whine and criticise your eating habits — this might be the perfect robot friend.
Image Credit: NXTROBO
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