New Korean Robot Responds to Non-Verbal Commands

Dennis Faas's picture

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have created a robot prototype that is able to accurately respond to human directions by identifying and reacting to simple motion commands.

In a recent demonstration, a scientist pushed a toy car and tossed a ball in the direction of the prototype. Confused, the robot flashed a question mark on an attached screen. Without saying a word, the scientist made a throwing motion with his hand and the prototype responded by tossing the ball back to him and ignoring the car.

Core System Mirrors Human Brain Activity

The robot's main system is designed to mimic the actions of a human in the same manner in which our brains function. The human brain contains specialized cells (called mirror neurons) that appear to move in the same way when we watch an action being performed by others and later attempt the same action ourselves.

Many are calling the prototype a "socially intelligent robot," capable of observing an action, breaking it down into a simple verbal description and retaining it within a virtual memory bank. Later, when a human attempts a similar move, the robot references its database and completes a responsive motion that best matches the observed action. (Source:

In the event that the memory bank generates two possible intentions (as was the case with the race car and ball) it can request a second gesture from the human. The robot is even able to retain details of each interaction, reducing the response time if faced with a similar encounter in the future.

Non-Verbal Communication an Advantage

While there have been a few robots that perform actions in response to verbal commands, the "social robot" relies on non-verbal communication -- a feature that will enable it to fare better in international markets.

As developer Ji-Hyeong Han states, "robots can recognize human intentions by understanding speech, but humans would have to make constant, explicit commands to the robot." Promoting action-based commands looks to reduce the number of errors made in getting a message across. (Source:

Another round of testing is expected soon, with the robot being equipped with visual sensors to detect and retain further human gestures.

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