Two AMTC graduate students were the support crew of very-talked-about humanoid robot Geminoid H4, one of the stars of the 5th Congress of the Future that took place from January 19th to 24th. If the mechanical prodigy was capable to speak to President Michelle Bachelet at the congress’ opening before hundreds of people in Plaza de la Constitución, was in part due to the help given by Luz María Martínez, AMTC Robotics PhD student, and Matías Mattamala, AMTC Robotics Master student, to professor Kohei Ogawa (University of Osaka), assistant of the creator of the Geminoid, Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro.
The students received an invitation to assist the robot from professor Javier Ruiz del Solar, since the producers of the congress asked the University of Chile for help to support professor Ogawa in all his necessities regarding the Geminoid. So, Luz and Matías had first-hand experience assembling, moving and operating the robot.
“Professor Javier reached us, he needed people with previous experience with robots because the congress’ people needed support in the matter, and since Luz had experience working with Bender and, in my case, with the NAOs, there was a knlowledge that could be put to good use. Not so much because we could assemble the robot, but because we could speak the same language or the same level of concepts Dr. Ogawa could need”, Matías tells. “He said, ‘Luz, Matías, do you want to be in?’ And we said yes. We didn’t give it a lot of thought, really”, Luz adds.
After a few, brief communications via e-mail from Dr. Ishiguro’s team in Japan just a couple of days before the congress’ opening, inwhich they requested material such as an electric transformer, Luz and Matías had their first enconunter with the humanoid on Monday 18th in a meeting room at the former National Congress Building. There professor Ogawa, who had arrived to Chile a few hours earlier, had the parts of the machine (torso, arms, legs and an impressive head) already unpackaged and ready to assemble. In this task, that took nearly one hour, the students wer of critical importance, since several hands are required to join limbs and connections.
“The first thing I saw was the head when it was uncovered, it was like watching a dead man. It was impressive, it really looked like a person, the hair… when I saw its teeth, it was impressive too… How could they get a robot to look so much like a person, with so much dedication?”, Luz says.
The opening day, Luz and Matías met at 6 AM with Dr. Ogawa and the Geminoid, that spent the night in the room where it was assembled, to move the robot to Plaza de la Constitución and to begin the long process of connections, tests and adjustments so the android could have a spotless public presentation with President Bachelet. And, as the press reported, the help included the very dialogue with the chief of State, since Matías was in charge bof providing the Geminoid’s voice while operating it, with assistance from professor Ogawa.
What did the students learned from this experience? “I liked the assembling, it’s so simple that… With Bender the assembly is a little more complex, sometimes we’ve been a whole afternoon putting it together, but here it was so easy, so clear, everything was pointed out, so it gives motivation about how a robot should be assembled, how to connect it when it travels. Everything was so clear and simple that any amateur can assemble it. They put so much effort into the design and connections, that the professor can calmly send anyone to travel with his robot (…) Because we had no inconveniences, the robot worked perfectly, nothing went wrong regarding its connections. And we never had any previous interaction with it. I thought that maybe we had to read a manual to learn a few things, but no”, Luz tells.
Matías adds his conclusions: “I mainly value the fact of interacting and learning, even if they are basic things. The very task of assembling it, to move it, to understand how it works. In my case, to speak through the robot also helped me to understand how professor Ogawa makes it function. On the other side, I value the philosophy and life vision the Japanese (or the Eastern culture) have regarding the same subject we work on here. Mainly because we are influenced by a more Western view o Robotics, in which there are many applications that are industry-oriented. But they have a vision in which robots are other beings with the same value as people. It’s like they see them as possible future friends that will help them in some of their tasks, not necessarily automating processes, but also as company, as caretakers”.
Luz and Matías helped professor Ogawa in two more oportunities: at the conference Ogawa gave at Parque Bicentenario on Thursday 21st (the android was inactive then) and in the conference held on Friday 22nd at the former National Congress, given by professor Ishiguro remotely operating his Geminoid from Taiwan.