Wall-e, make way for Charles

Navadha Pandey New Delhi | Updated on March 04, 2014

I, Robot Rajiv Khosla and hispersonal robot Charles

The robot, designed by an Indian, sings, dances and senses emotions too

Charles can sing Frank Sinatra’s The way you look tonight, dance a little, and recite your favourite poetry. But wait. Charles is not your boy next door. Charles is from the family of emotionally engaging robots named PaPeRo (Partner Personal Robot) designed by Rajiv Khosla and his team from Australia’s La Trobe University, and the Japanese electronics giant NEC Corp.

“The robot can interact with you using your voice. You can also use it via your mobile phone or a touch panel. It can sense your feelings and monitor changes in facial expressions. It is particularly useful for patients with dementia and autism,” Khosla says.

Khosla, an IIT Delhi alumnus, and currently Director of the Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation, is the lead researcher on the project. More than 20 field trials have been conducted in Australia.

“In one of the homes in Melbourne, we deployed the robot Lucy in November 2013. The mother’s feedback was that Lucy helped improve the hygiene habits of her autistic children.”

The robot has been in design for over 10 years now and about seven of these are currently in field trial stage across Australian households. “There has been no intentional design to look like human beings because the latter has evolved over hundreds of years. The idea is to complement the human partner to make them more active and productive and more importantly improve emotional well being.” While Khosla and his team are actively moving towards introducing it in Australian markets, they are also looking for research and business partners in India.

“We are having discussions with NEC Technologies. If there is enough demand, we will create a service facility here. I also gave a talk at the Bombay Psychiatric Society in January. I am awaiting feedback from doctors if it can have a therapeutic use in oncology wards to ease the pain process of patients under chemotherapy or dialysis sessions.” There are two versions of the robot. The static version costs about $2,000 and is 120 cm tall and weighs about 1.4 kg. The mobile version is five times the size of the static version and has a battery back-up of 2.5 hours. It will be priced as per customisation levels.

“These robots are multi-lingual and can be personalised based on the language, culture and lifestyle of their human partners. It can also detect a stranger’s face in your house and send a text message to your phone,” Khosla said.

On whether it can be helpful for life and death situations, for example a heart attack, Khosla says, “There are wearable bracelets with sensor technology which this can be connected with. We are not doing it right now because we can do only so many things as the space is pretty huge. But in future that’s a possibility.”

The research for the project has been funded by La Trobe University, NEC, and external bodies such as Alzheimer’s Australia, Kyoto University and even the Government.

When the robot is left with 20 per cent power it says: I am hungry, please charge me. What is the USP, we ask. “It is not judgmental like human beings,” Khosla smiles. But the cutest thing about Charles is when it is picked up for getting a picture clicked, it says: “Keep me down, I am not a baby”.

Published on March 04, 2014

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