When you think of a dance instructor, you probably think of someone toned, a bit loud, and just a little terrifying. A dancing robot, however, seems to be far from the image we have of a dance teacher.
And yet, it seems that this robot dance instructor is just as skillful at teaching people how to dance, perhaps even more. Researchers designed the robot to be able to follow a human's lead as well as adapt its teaching methods to the student's skill level. The robot can push students to successfully complete their dance classes without being too, well, pushy.
Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan designed the 1.8-meter tall robot to teach adults 1.5 to 1.9 meters tall. Though the robot can teach a very human art, it doesn't look very human-like. It has wheels instead of feet, though it does have mechanical arms and an interface that resembles a human face. Don't get too put off, though; the robot's upper body can move like a human dancer.
The robot's face is also interactive. Its interface gives the student feedback, criticism, constructive criticism, and even encouragement. Students can track their own progress simply by looking at the robot's “face”. The robot also has a force sensor and rangefinders that can track movement. It then compares the student's movements to those of professional dancers.
Because a dancing robot instructor is unconventional, its teaching methods are somewhat unconventional as well. To begin, students watch as a professional dancer demonstrates the dance steps. This gives students the opportunity to study the footwork, given that the robot doesn't have feet.
Then, the students watch the robot perform the steps so they have an idea of how the robot moves. At this point, the students begin their dance instruction with the robot. After a while, the students learn that the robot moves in accordance with their own movements. The robot also lessens the force it employs in the sessions to make students more independent.
Sessions with the robot last 20 to 30 minutes, after which the students answer a questionnaire to evaluate the robot.
The results of the study show that the dancing robot can be quite a good teacher. Five out of six volunteers for the study who have never waltzed before showed improvement. However, when the researchers didn't program the robot to adapt to students' skills, four out of six volunteers showed no improvement.
Of course, robot-human interactions of this nature can go beyond dancing. Robots like this can also help people undergoing physical therapy or sports training. The researchers claim that with the employment of a robot instructor, potential interpersonal problems won't be much of a possibility.
The research can lead to a greater understanding of physical interactions between robots and humans. This can contribute to studies on several other applications, a number of which don't even have anything to do with dancing. For example, the findings of this study can help research on shifting from human drivers to autonomous cars.
From dancing robots to autonomous cars, this research can open doors to many possibilities.
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