Disney Research has posted a YouTube video that provides a convincing display of a robot's ability to interact with humans playing catch. The robot even reacts appropriately to dropping the ball.
The motivating idea behind this project is to have a safe way for theme park visitors to interact with robots. There are safety concerns about getting up close and personal with animatronic humanoids but throwing and catching games provide a safe form of interaction.
For the purpose of this experiment Disney Research modified the robot's hand - giving it a cup like shape while retaining the appearance of a human hand - and used an of-the-shelf Kinect system for vision. The robot also responds by moving its head, giving the impression that it is tracking the ball. In the video we see it playing with six participants with a range of ages and skill level:
Perhaps the most endearing feature is the robot's reaction when it misses the ball. It has been programmed to look behind or down, shake its head and shrug its shoulders. These animations were enough to evoke responses - laughter or sympathy - on the part of the humans who played catch.
The robot is also up to juggling - although in this case it was skilled human jugglers who took part in the tests.
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