Meet Lisa, a world championship robot with a lot to say

Students from the University of Koblenz-Landau gave life to Lisa, a helpful social robot who can communicate with humans (and other robots) and perform common daily tasks.
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Students from the University of Koblenz-Landau built Lisa, a helpful social robot who can communicate with humans and perform daily tasks.

With 75.4 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. alone, it’s undeniable that a large percentage of the population is growing older. This means unique challenges for this generation: fluctuating health needs, concerns about economic independence, and, eventually, even the ability to independently perform common daily tasks. As a result, people are now beginning to think of robots as a solution to some of these challenges, with the home becoming one of the most significant areas of opportunity for these autonomous robots (even more so than in deep sea exploration or disaster recovery). However, with the introduction of home robots, comes the need for conversational, human-machine communication.  Commercially available robots like NAO from Aldebaran, which features Nuance’s embedded and cloud-based ASR, are getting a lot of attention in this space, but today, I’d like for you to meet Lisa.

Lisa demonstrates that it does not always take big companies to build something great. Lisa was designed by students of the HOMER project at the University of Koblenz (in Germany). And not only did she recently win the “European championships” for robots in Lisbon, but also the “world championship” for home robots at RoboCub 2015 in Hefei, China this summer! Here at Nuance, we are a little proud as well, because Lisa uses embedded ASR by Nuance. Actually, we provided the technology to the team as part of Nuance’s Academic licensing program in which we support research and education globally. (What’s more, the runner up in the Lisbon event, SocRob, uses the same technology under the same program.)

Students from the University of Koblenz-Landau gave life to Lisa, a helpful social robot who can communicate with humans (and other robots) and perform common daily tasks

Lisa is also remarkable in that the team demonstrated in Hefei how two Lisa robots (“Purple Lisa” and “Blue Lisa”) can collaborate in solving typical household tasks, like serving meals or bringing out trash (seen below). And they do it by talking to each other, using human language.

Some may suggest that it would be faster and more efficient for the robots to communicate by WLAN or Bluetooth, but one of the key benefits of speech is that it is a “one-to-many” communication medium; not only the intended recipient will get the message, but also others can overhear it. That may be a little awkward at times (e.g. when you want to compose a private message in a public place, where Swype’ing it may be a better solution than speaking or dictating it). But in this use case, it is a clear benefit. While the robots negotiate tasks among themselves, human beings can supervise (if they wish so) in a comfortable way and understand what is going on.

 

 

Lisa is just one of the many exciting areas of innovation where technology is helping to assist humans with their daily tasks. So today, join me in congratulating Lisa’s team on their impressive accomplishments. And who knows, maybe in the next few years we’ll all have several robots helping us with day to day tasks, happily chatting away.

 

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Nils Lenke

About Nils Lenke

Nils joined Nuance in 2003, after holding various roles for Philips Speech Processing for nearly a decade. Nils oversees the coordination of various research initiatives and activities across many of Nuance’s business units. He also organizes Nuance’s internal research conferences and coordinates Nuance’s ties to Academia and other research partners, most notably IBM. Nils attended the Universities of Bonn, Koblenz, Duisburg and Hagen, where he earned an M.A. in Communication Research, a Diploma in Computer Science, a Ph.D. in Computational Linguistics, and an M.Sc. in Environmental Sciences. Nils can speak six languages, including his mother tongue German, and a little Russian and Mandarin. In his spare time, Nils enjoys hiking and hunting in archives for documents that shed some light on the history of science in the early modern period.