Science & Technology

Robot “just another colleague” for faculty in innovative program

By Alejandro Prieto

Rivera, Uruguay, May 30 (EFE).- Getting students’ attention is no problem for UTECO, the most unusual member of the faculty leading a post-graduate program in artificial intelligence and robotics involving universities in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil.

A lack of eyes or vocal chords is not an impediment to teaching, as UTECO showed in a demonstration at Universidad Tecnologica del Uruguay (UTEC) here in Rivera.

As instructor Andre Kelbouscas told Efe, UTECO is “just another colleague” for the researchers taking part in the program run jointly by UTEC, Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Rio Grande (FURG), and Universidad Nacional de Rafaela (UNRaf) in Argentina.

“It has a series of capabilities such as seeing via cameras, talking through speakers, and also moving by way of motors, feeling touch, and others,” Kelbouscas said of the NAO robot that UTEC obtained from Robot Lab, a company in the United States.

He described NAO, originally created by France’s Aldebaran Robotics, as hardware with “very generic capacity” that can be programmed for specific functions.

For the UTEC-FURG-UNRaf program, the value of the NAO lies in exploring the possibilities of human-robot interaction, Kelbouscas said.

During the recent demonstration for several European ambassadors, UTECO was able to answer basic questions and respond to simple commands.

The robot, according to Kelbouscas, is built to function in Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Chinese.

And in addition to their brainpower, NAO models have a talent for soccer that has made them regular participants in international competitions such as the RoboCup.

But Kelbouscas and the rest of the team have loftier ambitions for UTECO, which they hope to provide with a “very large database of questions and possible responses to attempt to ‘generalize’ the conversation.”

“Generalization would be to propose a question that it has not been asked and having the capability to reply,” he said.

Alongside the work with UTECO, the UTEC-FURG-UNRaf initiative is collaborating with a group in Mexico on building “robot @HOME” machines to aid with everyday household tasks.

The program, which is conducted in Spanish and Portuguese and involves both in-person and remote coursework, currently included 10 students from each of the three countries.

Noting that the initiative is open to graduates from any discipline, Kelbouscas said that a lawyer, doctor, or journalist with an interest in robotics and artificial intelligence can gain valuable knowledge in the context of a world ever more focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

The program welcomes applicants with the aptitude to develop “processes and projects” related to robotics and “Industry 4.0” as well as approaches to “evaluate the social impact and possible ethical complications that the use of these technologies can cause.”

EFE apf/dr

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