PLAN 71: Article
Introducing Nexi, Internet Celebrity

The Media Lab's Latest Robot Makes a Splashy Debut

After a video demonstration of a new experimental robot from the Media Lab was posted on YouTube in April, the robot became something of an Internet celebrity. At this writing, the spot has been accessed more than 100,000 times and viewers have reacted with comments ranging from awe and bemusement ('This robot seems more humane then most humans') to shock and alarm ('Creepy. Very creepy.').

Created by the Personal Robots Group at the Media Lab – headed by Cynthia Breazeal, who is widely known for her robot Kismet – the new robot can slant its eyebrows in anger, raise them in surprise, hood its eyes in boredom and show a wide assortment of other facial expressions to communicate with people in human-centric terms.

Named Nexi, the new product is known as an MDS (mobile, dextrous, social) robot. Unlike Kismet, which consisted only of a robotic head, Nexi is a complete mobile manipulator robot with video cameras for eyes, an array of microphones for ears, hands to manipulate objects and a 3-D infrared camera and laser rangefinder to support real-time tracking of objects, people and voices, as well as indoor navigation. It is aimed at a range of applications for personal robots and human-robot teamwork.

Nexi was developed in collaboration with Professor Rod Grupen at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and two MIT robotic spin-off companies. The project was originally funded – by an award from the Office of Naval Research Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) – to develop a class of robots that can engage in sophisticated forms of peer-to-peer teamwork with humans in uncertain environments.

Another more recent award from the Office of Naval Research, for which Breazeal is principle investigator, aims at developing technologies for teams comprised of humans and autonomous aerial robots, in addition to MDS robots. Several MIT faculty are part of that effort, including Deb Roy at the Media Lab, in addition to other collaborators at Stanford, Vanderbilt, UMass-Amherst and the University of Washington.

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This story appeared in slightly different form on the website of the MIT News Office, written by David Chandler.