What is it about a robot that intrigues us? Is it the ability to play God and create a new life, so to speak? Is it our awe of someone else with an idea that came to life? Perhaps it is the little engineer in all of us that says, damn! I wish I had done that! Whatever it is, Noah, the Watson robot, kept us interested at the recent IBM Executive event I attended in Venice.
Standing about 3 feet tall, white with strategic blue plastic bits, a lit up heart like Iron Man and blue eyes, at this stage, Noah is more like a puppet than an active living robot. When hooked up to Watson, Noah can interact across many streams of information and analysis. Our viewing was much more simple but nonetheless intriguing. Autonomy will come, but for now, it is more about programmatic experiences and commands. Noah, for instance, can dance, but only if his handler tells him to, instead of him liking the music and breaking out in a jig.
I had many questions for Noah, or rather for Noah’s handler Lydia, who was very patient in explaining what no doubt was the millionth time about how Noah works or performs his tricks.
Noah does not entirely analyze what is around him today, but can reply when spoken to, in English, in a childlike voice. His eyes blink, and I found out can change color when some emotions are used, and his Iron Man-like heart glows and flutters in color. Noah is still a test model, this is not a rugged robot, but as explained meant to interact with people by talking to them, and with them. Noah can dance, but he can’t help himself back up if he falls without human intervention.
I had many ideas for the Noah some more fun than others:
- Eyes should change color for emotions, especially when he is listening
- Should have an evil laugh (just for fun!)
- Different voices for languages, like Waze does for directions
- Should sit on a Roomba and get driven around the room accumulating data points of what he sees and hears, extra credit if a GoPro video comes from it to publish live action
- A website where the internet can ask Noah questions or ask Noah to perform some dance move or trick, similar to the Burger King Subservient Chicken website (http://www.subservientchicken.com/) sorry kids, this is old school internet!
- Noah should get a solar cell built into his head or body so he can roam freely without the need of power cords.
- I wanted to see how Noah would have been received if he was walking around Piazza San Marco or the Rialto Bridge.
- Some Iron Man gadgets would be cool too, like the ability to levitate and fly. Well, it is IBM R&D they should be able to do it. I guess if you made Noah part drone you could do this?
Noah travels in a carry on case and naturally causes some questions from various security personnel and machinery.
I suggested they could have Noah do something like kick the case and yell “let me out of here” or something like that just to play with security staff. Or have Noah’s head spin around real slowly like Chucky. Hey if you can’t have fun with a robot…
Unfortunately, we did not get to see or hear, much from Noah and the Watson team at our event as we were focused on some other solutions. Luckily, I and some other IBM Champions spent time talking to Noah’s caretaker afterwards about what it was like to travel around the world with a robot.
The robot doesn’t get a seat but does fly free as a carry-on, never as luggage. Hope he is insured well! We even found out there are other editions of robots like Noah in other geographies. IBM has events worldwide seemingly every week or two which would explain the need for multiple iterations. Each geography also has some different codes so they can perform different tasks.
Noah does not have a big set of onboard memory built in but does run some embedded code but it is not managed by an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. His speakers are his weakest link due to cabling and movement mostly, but the most important part because without his vocal chords he would not be so interesting to people, he would just be a Star Wars BB-8 robot.
Look for Noah at an event near you or ask IBM to bring him out or visit your company, however, you probably should be big enough or a well-known company to warrant the visit.