Nexi, the latest robot star from MIT's Media Lab, is symbolic of the widespread research interest in the future range of applications for personal robots and human-robot teamwork. Nexi is an experimental humanoid robot with a head that can display a wide range of facial expressions. Video cameras and microphones enable it to see and hear, and eventually Nexi will have mobility made possible by a Segway transporter type device.
The project was originally funded by an office of Naval Research Defense University Research Instrumentation program award. The intent: to develop a novel class of robots that can engage in sophisticated forms of peer-to-peer teamwork with humans in uncertain environments.
MIT and other U.S. researchers have no monopoly on personal robot enthusiasm. In Japan, for instance, robot experts are even more convinced that robots are rapidly becoming social companions to people.
"Now, as we get more intelligence into the robot, we can start doing things we could only imagine in the 1960s and 1970s," says Christensen. "On the industrial side, it is enabling the expansion of robots from the automotive sector to a number of other sectors. The added intelligence is also enabling the move from large-scale to small-scale manufacturing. That added intelligence also increases the functionality possible with the home deployment of personal robots," he says.