The Keepon is a cute, yellow robot that dances to music you may have seen bopping on YouTube. It shows how subtle changes could make robotics friendlier in the near future.
Foremost among those changes: show a little skin. By wrapping the robot’s armature with soft, rubber skin, the Keepon is both squeezable and more lifelike. (After all, how many people / pets / creature friends do you know who don’t have a skeleton and skin? Yes, you with the pet beetle, you’re an exception.)
Second, and earning the Keepon YouTube fame and glory, the BeatBots know how to shake their groove thing. Like smart puppeteers, the Keepon’s designers have kept motions simple but expressive: turning, nodding, rocking, and bobbing, the Keepon’s motions themselves are realistic, and convey attention. Those decisions were conceived to let the Keepon interact with children, but all people respond well to attention as emotional connection. Our friend Keith Lang of Plasq was recently musing on the importance of attention and eyes on his blog, as a way of contemplating software UI design. Looking into your eyes is powerful is the short version of that; big-eyed Anime characters, puppy dogs, and glaring looks from enemies all grow out of that.
Talking about it is one thing; here’s the robot in action with its creators, dancing to Spoon:
Of course, to make that work, the Keepon needs a good sense of rhythm — better than, say, that erratically flopping fish you got at the local convenience store as a gag gift. To do that, the Keepon’s creators are using music/multimedia software Max/MSP to prototype their “architecture for rhythmic social interaction.” It’s not the first time we’ve seen people programming robotic rhythmic interactions in Max: Georgian robot Haile drums in response to a human player using Max-programmed interactions.
Hey, you’re not listening any more, are you? You’re still watching that video over and over again. This is important! This is rhythmic social interaction! Though I guess if you are still distracted, the magic works.
Keepon on Tour: The Keepon has gigs in Denmark and Korea this week, followed by a set of LA appearances next month in association with Wired Magazine. They’ll even be doing a benefit concert for Creative Commons with Spoon. Details at the Keepon site:
Keepon & the Beatbots