Sony president,CMU alumnus unveil QRIO

Two and a half feet of electronics do not usually capture the attention of toddlers and parents alike. Last Friday, however, QRIO, Sony?s two-year-old humanoid robot, did just that.
Sony came to Carnegie Mellon last week, offering two demonstrations of QRIO to standing-room-only crowds in Rangos Ballroom. A pair of QRIOs drew upon a repertoire of boy-band moves and pelvic thrusts to perform a series of Latin, Arabian, Japanese, and American pop dances. They elicited smiles and chuckles from the crowd as the pair also danced ?The Robot.? They even showed off their ability to speak in a mock conversation with Todd Kozuki, their demonstrator and Carnegie Mellon alum.
Kozuki: ?So QRIO, how are you enjoying your first visit to Pittsburgh so far??
QRIO: ?I?m freezing.?
QRIO: ?I cannot wait to see a Primanti Bros. sandwich and a side of ?O? fries.?
Kozuki: ?That was definitely one of my favorite meals while I was a student here at CMU.?
During the question-and-answer period, audience members were intent on exploring the robot?s humanoid aspects. One student asked Hideki Komiyama, Sony Electronics? president and chief operating officer, if Sony had any plans to make QRIO taller so it could recognize faces more easily. Komiyama?s response was simple: ?It doesn?t grow,? he said, laughing.
As the robots were removed from the stage, the audience cooed at their noisy reactions to being held or touched. Kozuki later explained that these noises were actually warnings to the robot handlers to be careful not to hurt themselves.
Komiyama stated multiple times that Sony had no plans for commercializing QRIO. He said the company was still studying academic and research applications of the robot and that their nearly 20-year relationship with the University would influence their decision. ?If we do anything in academia, this is the university [we?ll come to],? said Komiyama. Yet no date was set, as he said there is no timetable for academic deployment. Sony is being more deliberate with this decision than with its AIBO robotic dog, the robot of choice for the four-legged division of International RoboCup, an annual robotic soccer competition.
Manuela Veloso, professor of computer science and chairperson for the 2001 International RoboCup competition, said QRIO was an improvement on robots like ASIMO - Honda?s bipedal humanoid robot which visited CMU back in March of 2003 - because of its expanded ability to operate autonomously. She said she was very interested in using a QRIO as a referee in future RoboCup tournaments.
Both Komiyama and Kozuki mentioned QRIO?s role as ?corporate ambassador,? representing the company and its highest technology. They are concerned the company?s image may be tainted by potential customers using the robot in certain ways.
Despite their caution, Kozuki says Sony has long-term goals for QRIO. His best guess places the robot inside livings rooms in about five years, where it will entertain and serve as a humanoid interface between people, home appliances, and networks. ?We wouldn?t create something like [it] if we didn?t mean to get this into the home,? said Kozuki in a later interview. Instead of entering search terms on a keyboard, a person can simply ask QRIO a question. Using an Internet connection, it can potentially retrieve stock quotes and weather predictions and even search for information.
Kozuki demonstrated a portion of QRIO?s interactive abilities by bowing and saying ?Konichiwa,? the Japanese phrase for hello. Using two cameras in its head, QRIO recognized the act, lined up its diminutive body with Kozuki?s, and returned the gesture, uttering its own electronic ?Konichiwa.?
The combination of human interaction and wireless Internet access allows the robot to be more than a novelty. Kozuki described a recent software demonstration in Japan where QRIO was asked to list television shows which were currently playing. Using his wireless internet link, QRIO retrieved the listings from Japan?s version of [ITAL]TV Guide[ITAL] and related them to the user. The demonstrator then asked QRIO to change the television to one of the listed shows. It went right ahead, using infrared transmitters ? like the kind that are in remote controls ? in its arm to switch the channels.
Kozuki, currently a software development engineer for Sony, graduated from CMU in 2001 with a Master?s degree in electrical and computer engineering. He got his first chance to work with robots in 1999, when his aunt ? a Sony employee ? recruited him for a position demonstrating the Sony AIBO. Since then, he?s been demonstrating Sony robotics around the country and today is only one of two engineers who have access to QRIO in the United States.
Kozuki said he was not very interested in programming while completing his degree. It was the physical nature of robotics that captured his heart. He said when a program crashes on a computer, all you get is a blue screen. His feelings for robots are quite different. ?When [the robot] crashes, it?s like they die.?