Me Bot is a desk-top telepresence robot that uses a variety of gestures to get your points across. It uses human social conventions like hand gestures, hand movements and even body posture and head-nodding to improve communication. I found an additional videos with additional information on this fascinating prototype, as well as MeBot's creator's masters thesis.
“Results show that people feel more psychologically involved and more engaged in the interaction with their remote partners when they are embodied in a socially expressive way. People also reported much higher levels of cooperation both on their own part and their partners as well as a higher score for enjoyment in the interaction,” claims the MIT Personal Robots Group (PRG).
MeBot has a three-degrees-of-freedom neck that can express the operator's emotional state and degree of engagement. The movable "neck" can actually help maintain eye contact, because MeBot is able to perform enough face recognition to "see" the eyes of the viewer.
One of my favorite MeBot capabilities is mobility. Rather than simply sitting on the desk, MeBot can roam the desktop, making eye contact with multiple listeners.
In his master's thesis, MeBot creator Sigurđur Örn Ađalgeirsson describes the experimental setup to demonstrate the superiority of gesturing robotic telepresence. Ideally, MeBot would compete with such diverse telepresence options as Skype and Second Life. However, since MeBot is a prototype, he decided to do a more limited evaluation to test the expressiveness of the robot in support of social presence, trust and engagement.
The results suggest that a socially expressive robot elicits more help and cooper- ation from its partner as well as being perceived more helpful by the partner, this is an interesting nding as one could just as well have believed that a robot that seems less capable might elicit more helpful behavior from their partner.
Trust and Cooperation
Cooperation was measured by three questions, this measure had the least number of questions to back it up and should therefore be interpreted more as an impression or indicator than a tried and tested statistic. Strong statistical dierence was measured in favor of the expressive case. Cooperation in this sense means the willingness to cooperate with the robot-mediated partner as well as the perceived willingness of the partner to cooperate.
Engagement is an important measure for formal and collaborative meetings but it is vital for any personal communication between families, spouses or friends. As family communica- tion is a vital future application of telepresence systems, it pleased the author to see that the MeBot system helps engage people in the interactions on a deeper level than static systems.
(MeBot operator has a choice of interfaces)
Science fiction fans totally agree with the importance of robots with these capabilities, having seen first-hand the benefits of robotic gestures in social interactions with human beings in such high-brow productions as Lost in Space, the popular 1960's TV series. Danger, Will Robinson!