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Life-like robot being built in Ottawa lab

February 3, 2012 | Hogan Keyser
Emil_Petriu_and_robot.jpg[Image: University of Ottawa scientist Emil Petriu is shown with a robot in his lab. Petriu and his colleagues are replacing the robot's mechanical parts with more human-like parts they are designing. (Peter Thornton/University of Ottawa)]

Life-like robot being built in Ottawa lab

Scientist believes humans, robots can have symbiotic relationship

CBC News Jan 20, 2012 via ISPR -- Canadian scientists are developing a robot that mimics the human face's expressions and human hand's tactile processes, which they say will be useful in areas like nursing, nuclear plant maintenance, and explosive device disposal. It could even act as a companion.

Lead scientist Emil Petriu, a computer engineer at the University of Ottawa who has done work for the Canadian Space Agency, described his research in a phone interview with CBC News.

A key part of the technology is a new biology-inspired touch-sensitive artificial skin that is able to sense contact, as well as the profile, temperature and elasticity of object surfaces, ultimately raising the tactile sensitivity of robots to the human level. The artificial skin is made of elastic silicon and embedded with tactical and temperature sensors.

"We are using biology as our source of inspiration. Human beings are most comfortable interacting with devices that move and respond the same way we do," said Petriu.

In a lab, he and his colleagues are using a robot as their test subject, methodically replacing its mechanical parts with more life-like parts they are designing. They will start with the head and then the hands.

They are designing some of the mechanical and electronic sensor elements for devices, such as intricate prosthetic limbs that can convey large amounts of information through a sense of touch.

For robots to perform some of the function of humans, in a nursing or home care capacity for instance, Petriu believes they must be user-friendly in key ways.

If a robot has to come into physical contact with a person, the interaction will be more comfortable if its skin is warm to our touch and Petriu said. "It's critical that they should have a warm, fuzzy feeling or they don't feel human."

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