Dancing Robot Doubles As Smartphone Dock
The Shimi robot docks a smartphone, plays songs from the phone's music library, recognizes beats and angles its speakers at people while they move around a room.
CREDIT: Georgia Tech
A new foot-tall robot plays music downloaded into smartphones, recognizes beats and angles its speakers to follow people as they move around the room.
"We want you to have a buddy, a companion that listens to music with you," said Gil Weinberg, a music technology researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology who led research on creating the robot, which is called Shimi.
In a demo video Weinberg and his colleagues created, a woman comes home, plugs her smartphone into the robot's dock, and Shimi automatically starts playing a song from the phone's music library. The robot taps its foot (it only has one, on its right side) and swings its head in time with the music. When the woman wants a different song, she taps a rhythm on the table in front of Shimi and the robot switches to a matching song.
All these capabilities are controlled by apps in the phone that plugs into Shimi. The robot itself has few computational capabilities or sensors. "It's kind of brainless without the phone," Weinberg said. Shimi communicates with the phone and accesses the phone's computing power using a Google-made platform called the Android Open Accessory Development Kit.
Yet Shimi's brainlessness means that it will always be ready to take on new capabilities as smartphones improve. "The idea is that when new phones will come, and new developments and new innovation, Shimi will immediately benefit," Weinberg told InnovationNewsDaily. In addition, other companies may develop Shimi apps with capabilities he and his colleagues didn't think of, he said.
For this prototype Shimi, Weinberg and his colleagues created about 10 apps. The apps all start automatically when users dock their phones. One app uses the phone's camera, plus facial-recognition software, to detect people in the room so that it can aim its speakers at people as they walk around. "So you're always in the center of the stereo field, so you get the best sound no matter where you are," Weinberg said.
Another app lets several Shimi robots play music and dance together. Yet another uses the phone's microphone to detect tapping or clapping, then matches that tapping to the main rhythm in songs in the phone's music library.
In the future, Shimi's creators hope to create apps that will recommend songs to people and recognize gestures people make indicating whether they like the song that's playing. They're also looking to create apps with a little personality, to go with the idea that Shimi is a "music buddy."
"Maybe he will even make fun of you for songs he doesn't think are cool enough," Weinberg said.
Shimi's creators have started a company, Tovbot, to bring the robot to market. They're working on making Shimi work with iPhones as well as Android phones, and are also working to ensure Shimi will cost between $100 and $200, Weinberg said. They plan to start selling Shimi robots by the winter of 2013. [Top 7 Useful Robots You Can Buy Right Now]
Researchers are also presenting Shimi prototypes at a Google-hosted developer's conference today (June 27) in San Francisco.
Watch Shimi at work in the demo video below. Not all of the capabilities shown here are actually working in the current prototype, but researchers plan to build everything shown below: