We often view personal robots from the perspective of a master-slave relationship. I think this view really limits our vision of how personal robots can be useful for humans. If we can conceive this relationship as cooperation instead of master-slave, this would be more beneficial for both the user and the robot. Neither are all humans are perfect and nor all the robots completely dumb. Humans and robots need to help each other. This idea forms the core concept of our “Robot Companion Project - A Robot for Every Phase of Human Life”.
Robots can do wonderful things, if fed by human intellect. For this to happen, humans need to have the patience of teaching a robot, just as they are patient while teaching their children. But in this fast moving world, we tend to be preoccupied with business and technology, and often have no time and no interest to replicate the traditional knowledge and customs to the next generation. Thus age-old ways, age-old traditions, and anything that is age-old and culturally valuable is either forgotten or preached in a very bad or wrong manner. Robots are very good at doing repetitive tasks, while humans are always impatient and often do the same repetitive things in different ways. Our basic intention is to use robots to help solving this problem. We teach the robots once, and let the robots teach and motivate the next generation to take up these customs many times over.
When we talk about India, the first thing that comes to the mind is Yoga. Ancient Indians started their day with a salutation to the Sun God - “Surya Namaskara”. This form of Yoga has 12 different positions called “asanas”. 12 different syllables or words called “mantras” have to be pronounced with each “asana”. Using the robot to teach Yoga has many advantages; the robot looks human, has a very easy-to-use interface, looks very attractive, and because of all this it connects very easily with humans. We were successful in implementing the entire “Surya Namaskara”; the music really adds to the positive effect. Please watch the video to see Nao perform "Surya Namaskara".
I will soon reproduce many other Indian traditions for the benefit of the new world and the next generation to see and remember these traditions. And we will soon be working on skill exchange programs between Abhirami and students. The idea is that many students will get access to Abhirami and can teach it different skills. In return, these students would perfect their own skills.