"I can read your mind", "magic exists", "I know which letter you are thinking about". These are phrases that any viewer could hear in a magic show inside a theater. On this occasion they are also pronounced by magicians. And some even wear top hats. But they are not flesh and blood, but their bodies are made up of motors, processors and sensors. They are robots that participate in the Humanoid Robot Application Challenge, a competition of humanoid robot magic that took place this Thursday in Madrid at the IROS 2018 (the international conference on robots and intelligent systems, for its acronym in English).
Robinion It is the winning robot of the tournament. He is six years old, measures 85 centimeters and weighs seven and a half kilos. His eye -which is a front camera-, his smile and his bow tie with yellow and black stripes captivate the audience from the moment the show begins. "Good morning to all. Look what happens if you use the same pieces for six years. Now the joints of my shoulders and knees creak, "he says in English in a robotic voice as he flexes his legs.
His trick is to put a marble in a closed bottle without opening it. Behind him is Jaeskik Jeong, a 34-year-old man from the National Normal University of Taiwan, who attends Robinion in the trick. He is one of the 17 robotics fans who have attended the largest robot congress in the world to compete in this tournament. Among the participants, there are also representatives from universities in China, Germany and Canada. "There are seven teams. The youngest are 26 years old and they are doing a master's degree, but most of them are older and already have a doctorate ", says Iván Riaño Salamanca, a Colombian who has attended the tournament with the University of Applied Sciences of Ostfalia, in Germany.
Riaño is part of one of the two teams aimed at the competition that finally have not been able to participate. Your robot is called Hans, participates regularly in the Robocopa and was expected to do a trick in which he guesses which hand a coin hides a volunteer. "It's a robot that allows us to work in the mechanical, electronic and hardware. As you have three facets, you can have an error in any of them, "he explains. On this occasion one of the engines on Hans' arm does not work: "That makes the code that we sent by software does not reach the engine. You have to solve the mechanical part to make the programming part work ".
"When doing magic tricks the final result is not as interesting as the process that is in the middle," says Riaño. In this process, the objective is to draw the viewer's attention: "It is a way of seeing how we do so that you as a person who is not in direct contact with a robot feel interest".
Magic and research
The coordinator of the competition and professor at the National Normal University of Taiwan, Jacky Baltes, affirms that magic is a good method to do research with which to understand how human attention works and make robots more skillful: "Magic includes A lot of challenges in which robots are not very good at the moment like manipulating small objects fast and accurately. For example, no humanoid robot is capable of shuffling cards. "
This is the third year in which the Humanoid Robot Application Challenge is celebrated. The first prize is a robot and the second, a robotic hand to work with manipulation. The participants, according to Baltes, have improved significantly compared to previous editions. "Every time they try harder to entertain the audience and they already perform a real magic show, not only do tricks but also tell stories." The judges of the contest evaluate the technical difficulty of the trick, the objects that are needed to make the demonstration and the interaction with the audience.
Participants interact with their robots continuously. "Both verbal and non-verbal communication are very important to attract public attention," says Jeehyun, the woman who has designed Robinion. Meanwhile, his partner talks to the robot before the watchful eye of the jury and places a bottle in his left hand. Then, put a marble on the right. Robinion He drops the marble, which apparently goes through the cap of the bottle and falls inside. The audience applauds enthusiastically and Jaeskik gives the bottle to the judges to check that the ball is inside. While examining the bottle, Robinion He asks them to be careful not to break it. "It's the most important bottle of my life," he says to the laughter of the spectators.
The robots that participate in the competition have a lot of work behind them. "These are projects that may take more than five years," says Riaño. At the time of building the robot, participants also encounter obstacles. "For example, making it recognize shapes or objects is difficult when there is a change of light," explains Jaeskik.
Swetty is a humanoid robot that measures 170 meters and weighs 28 kilograms. Its creators, five young people from the University of Offenburg (Germany), have been working with him for three years. "We train him by taking glasses. That a robot learns to do this is useful for humanity. We practice with magic instead of making a robot that only picks and takes bottles from a refrigerator, "says Maximilian Giessler, one of its creators.