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My Automated Conversation coacH

A lot of the time, the way that you speak is just as important as the selection of words. However, analyzing speaking habits is much harder than diction, so how do you even prepare for that crucial job interview? Well, researchers at MIT have created a robot that can help you with that.

My Automated Conversation coacH (MACH) is a robot program that targets social interactions. Since more than 15 million adults in the United States suffer from glossophobia (fear of public speaking), such a robot is duly needed to help us get rid of any awkwardness in daily conversation.

On the surface, MACH is a 3D model of a person that can talk to a user with common scenarios, one being a job interview. However, MACH is unique in that it uses a camera and microphone to record video and audio input, and analyzes these parts. It uses facial recognition software to detect eye contact, as well as smiling, nodding, or even drifting away from the conversation. Voice recognition, on the other hand, detects not only the words that are spoken, but the tone and modulation (how much the tone varies) over time.

Such data from any social interaction is very valuable to the improvement of speaking. People were able to see how they responded, as well as detected visual cues and spoken nuances. The results are pretty solid as well.

To test the robot, the inventors created an experiment with MIT students. First, all of the students went through a fake interview. Then, the students were split up into three groups. The first group was not trained with MACH but was allowed to view advice videos about interviews. The second was trained with MACH but received no feedback from the robot. The third was trained with MACH and received the full set of feedback from the robot. A week later, when all three groups received a second interview, only the third group with training and feedback improved significantly; the other two groups showed little or no improvement.

MACH is planned to be accessible on an ordinary laptop; however, it will still take a while for the program to release generally. Until it’s released and everyone can enjoy the benefits of better social interaction, you’ll just have to grind your teeth and make it through that interview.

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Geodesic Dome Robot

This year’s Maker Faire saw a variety of colorful inventions, and this one robot was definitely a cool centerpiece. It looks like a possessed dome on legs, but it gets even cooler than that.

To tell the truth, this robot doesn’t seem to have as much bite as its bark. It inches along at 0.02 miles per hour. Not exactly the amazing hulk that will chase people down during the apocalypse. But this ball-on-legs is cool on its own right.

The vehicle itself consumes 800 watts of power, carrying its 1,800 lbs of weight. The creator, welder Scott Parenteau, says that he’s always had an obsession with domes, and the geodesic dome is the easiest to build with metal, because it’s easy to put together and to deal with as a whole. The 12 legs on the other hand, move slowly but very smoothly, so if you just want to stroll around and take a look, this robot’s the way to go.

Just don’t really expect it go anywhere anytime soon.


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MEDi Soothing Robot

Especially for small children, flu shots are a terrifying experience, with apparently terrible pain. This phase is quite crucial because studies show that children who experience distress in a medical setting are less likely to seek medical care in adulthood. The question is how to relive suffering, and this robot shows that such relieve evidently comes in the form of a robot.

Another video can be found here.

This robot is called MEDi, a NAO robot owned and programmed by researchers at the University of Calgary. The robot greets children with a high-five, collects toys from a tray, and talks with the patient, altogether acting as sort of a playmate.

One example of how the robot actually helps is when the robot asks the child to blow dust off of a rubber toy, at which point the doctor injects the flu shot. In medical terms, this exhaling relaxes the deltoid muscle and reduces the pain of injection, while appearing as a very natural interaction between child and robot.

This robot was the target of a scientific study, with 57 children ranging from 4 to 9 years old. These children were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The control group got the routine care for flu shots, while the other group had MEDi to interact with the child. Later, the children, parents, nurses, and researchers present in the cases rated how distressed the children seemed. The results are pretty interesting to say the least.

Not only did children who interacted with MEDi report significant pain reduction, children also recovered more quickly, relaxing almost immediately after injection, whereas control group children remained sullen for up to 20-30 minutes. Some parents also interacted with the robot cooperatively, working together to coordinate actions such as the dust-blowing.

The possibilities are endless in this case. Because MEDi has facial recognition capabilities, researchers are considering possibly making the robot greet children on subsequent visits, adding to the effect. MEDi is a pioneer in pediatric pain relief, and let us hope that this field will further expand so that children will experience the least suffering overall.

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R2B2: Button Basher

This robot will probably make you take out your phone and maybe fix some features in there, because it’ll make you question just how safe the information in your phone is. If you think that your flimsy password will deter anyone, think again!

This robot is called R2B2, short for Robotic Reconfigurable Button Basher. It does the dirty work of cracking Android passwords by trying every single combination until it hits a match. Not only that, it does it in around 19 hours, less than the time in a day. If you lost your phone for a day, you could essentially have all of your information stolen!

Now the interesting thing is that R2B2 isn’t even physically worth that much. It’s made of three $10 servomotors and ┬ámany 3D-printed plastic parts, overall built for less than $200. It runs on an Arduino microcontroller, wields a plastic stylus to tap screens, and uses a cheap webcam to detect when a correct password is entered.

Alas, R2B2 does have its shortcomings. It’s so far restricted to Android numerical codes, because brute-forcing locks on an iPhone on default settings. Of course, you can always change your settings a bit, and prevent the robot from getting very far. Just make sure that your passcode isn’t the one that the robot guesses in the first three tries.

This robot was created by Justin Engler and Paul Vines, the former of whom is a security engineer, so it looks like we won’t have these roaming the streets and stealing info anytime soon. Instead, this robot is being considered for the improvement of security systems, as sort of a pass system.

Better security is more privacy, so make sure that all of your information and mobile devices are locked down securely!

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Tradinno, Robot Dragon

Most of the time when it comes to robots, size depends very much on what the robot is being used for. For convenience, some robots are smaller and portable. For sheer necessity, others are hulking machines. But when it comes to show business, for dramatic effect, bigger is better.

This real-life dragon is called Tradinno, meshing together Tradition and Innovation. He weighs 11 tons, is 51 feet long, and has a wingspan of 40 feet. This guy is nightmare fuel if you’re afraid of fire-breathing mythical creatures and a dream-come-true if you’re a fan of fantasy.

The robot is the product of a decade of planning and work, and is magnificent to behold. With a 2 liter turbo diesel engine and polyurethane, glass-reinforced plastic skin, controllable veins that spurt 21 gallons of stage blood, flappable wings, and liquid gas for fire-breathing, Tradinno is truly an entertainment robot.

In fact, this robot is in the “Guinness World Records 2014″ book as the world’s largest walking robot. The only thing it can’t do is fly, but that’s more of a blessing if you really think about it. Entertainment, on a new level.

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