Monday, September 20, 2010

Muslim Humanoid Robots

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah

In the category “Science and Technology in the Muslim World”, I would like to briefly report some efforts at developing “human-like” robots by researchers in Iran and in the United Arab Emirates.
First, in early July it was reported that a robot equipped with artificial intelligence was developed in Iran. Named Surena, he (the name sounds like a she, but it refers to an ancient Persian warrior, so I guess it’s a he) stands 1.45 m tall, weighs 45 kg and walks slowly like a man (or a boy), with “characteristic […] regular arm and leg movements.”
Not to belittle the efforts of the Iranians, who – it must be recalled – rely almost entirely on their own resources (human and material), but if that’s what makes it “human-like”, I am afraid that’s not much of a (technical) development; as we all know, such robots (see picture below) have been around for decades…

Then in August it was announced that researchers at the UAE’s national university had produced a new, advanced humanoid robot, one that not only walks like a human, but looks like a human being, and talks like a human being (responds, in artificial-intelligence manner, to human questions, via a voice synthesizer). Now that’s much better, as far as I’m concerned.
Named Ibn Sina (after the great medieval polymath Avicenna, and that too is a much better choice), the robot is claimed to be “one of the world’s most advanced humanoid robots” – for indeed there have also been others like this one, including an Einstein-looking humanoid robot. (Actually, when I was looking for info on such humanoid robots, I came across youtube clips of female-looking androids that do various massages. You can imagine what else will be coming soon…)
Ibn Sina, however, can recognize faces, understand people who speak Arabic, move to face them, gesture (shake hands and touch noses, an Arabian tradition), and respond with full sentences (in either Arabic or English). It uses software developed by Acapela, a French company, but it can also connect to the internet and retrieve information for its purposes (that’s impressive, if the claim is true). Earlier versions of Ibn Sina had been developed, as can be found through Google and youtube searches, but this one is clearly a much improved version. Watch Ibn Sina video here (in Arabic)
Although its budget was a modest $200,000, this project, from the UAEU College of Information Technology’s Interactive Robots and Media Lab, was supported by the highest authorities in the UAE. Now plans and efforts are being made to find sponsors and investors and turn it into a commercial venture.
It is encouraging to note that researchers in the region are exploring all such scientific and technological fields and making noteworthy progress. Let us hope that bureaucracy, stress, friction (dissipation of energy), and lack of recognition and support don’t end up driving these researchers away to either less creative but more lucrative areas (locally) or to greener pastures (globally)…


Powered by Blogger.