Alan Alda Visits Flakey the Robot
A production team from the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers
visited SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center, May 4, 1994, to film Flakey, the AIC's mobile robot. Alan Alda, host
of the series, was on hand. He and Flakey starred in a script in which
Alda first shows Flakey around the halls, identifying various offices along
the way, including those of two employees, John and Karen. He also tells
him that John knows where Karen is. Later, Alda asks Flakey to go fetch a
file from Karen. Flakey troops off to Karen's office, asks if she's there,
and hearing no answer, trundles off to John's office. ``John, are you
there?,'' Flakey asks. ``Yes,'' replies John. ``Where is Karen?,'' Flakey
continues. ``Flakey, she's in the front office.'' Flakey then heads for
the front office, but finds an obstacle in its way. He get around the
obstacle, completes his trip to the office, finds Karen, asks her for the
file, gets it from her, and takes it back to Alda.
In two weeks before the shooting day, Flakey had been taught new tricks.
Real-time stereo algorithms were adapted so that Flakey could distinguish
and follow people. The DECIPHER
speech recognition system was used to give Flakey the ability to respond to
spoken commands. These were rapidly integrated with Flakey's established
navigational and control
techniques via its agent architecture based upon PRS-Lite.
Alan Alda and the producers were delighted with the interactive response
of Flakey to visual input, spoken commands, and unexpected events, and
tested the system extensively to gauge how well it worked. In one
sequence, Alda wondered what would happen if Flakey were to give himself
commands. Although it had not been tried before, it was easy enough to do:
Flakey was commanded to say ``Flakey, turn left,'' while his microphone was
held next to his speaker. He heard his own command, acknowledged it, and
The two hours of material shot on May 4, were distilled into a 6-minute
segment, which became part of a special program on ``Life's Big Questions,''
celebrating Scientific American's 100th Anniversary.
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