“What is the time now?”
“Right now? Do I look like a clock? The fourth of January twenty-sixteen, twenty-one fifty-seven and forty-three seconds.”
At first glance, you might think this is a scripted Siri conversation. But the truth is, this is a real conversation with a somewhat naughty robot and his creator.
Oh, and he will be hosting the National Day Parade (NDP) for the first time this year, and his name is Edgar.
Julie Tan, who is also a first-time NDP host, Joakim Gomez, Nurul Aini, and Subramaniam Narainda, are going to be alongside Edgar to make sure he doesn’t get into any mischief.
“I Am Also A Humanoid And So Can Strike Many Human-Like Poses”
Edgar, or specifically EDGAR-2, is the younger sibling of EDGAR-1, a humanoid robot designed to work remotely from (almost) anywhere in the world.
EDGAR stands for Expressions Display and Gesturing Avatar Robot. By positioning the user in front of a computer with an attached Microsoft Kinect sensor, the EDGAR-1 can display a video of the user’s countenance where its face is and mimic the user’s upper body movements.
He is programmed to speak and his capabilities extend to classrooms, museums and public spaces like shopping malls where he can be an interactive guide.
Our amiable EDGAR-2, whom we will affectionately refer to as Edgar, expressed his humble wish to be a part of the NDP last year.
This year, he got his wish, and will be the first robot host of the NDP.
Edgar is “perhaps a real-world C3PO” as described by his creators. He is not like his predecessor that acts as a remote screen for the user – he can think and interact with people on his own.
A Kinect sensor is built inside him so he can “hear and see people” which allows him to answer queries using his database or search the Internet for them.
According to his creator Dr. Wong Choon Yue, “Edgar has the ability to ad-lib”.
Which means he can get a little mischievous – like Siri. Dr. Wong teased, “But for the NDP, we coded specific responses so he doesn’t say anything too cheeky.”
He and his elder brother were developed by Dr. Wong, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and his wife, a research associate and PhD student in NTU, Pang Wee Ching. Edgar was “conceived” in NTU’s Robotics Research Centre (RRC).
Proud “Parents” And Proud Singaporeans
Dr. Wong and Ms Pang created Edgar three years ago.
Good news came to them in August last year, when the NDP committee reached out to them for this year’s parade. Their wedding was happening in October – but it was a happy problem.
Dr. Wong said in a Straits Times interview this year, “After the wedding, there was a mad rush to get Edgar ready, by making him more reliable, and getting him to look more Singaporean too, by 3D-printing a Singaporean flag on his arm.”
Ms Pang agrees that it was fitting for Edgar to be on the Marina Bay floating platform this year saying, “When people think of robots, people think of Japan, South Korea or the United States. But this is a chance to show that Singapore can also compete with the big boys in the area of robotics.”
That is truly a vision – to put Singapore on the world map in the world of technology and robotics.
With both Edgar and EDGAR-1’s “telepresence” function, it will be a step forward in enhancing jobs in the customer service industry and aiding professionals across the world.
Self-learning robots now come with evolving personalities, so what will this be like for humans in five years’ time, or even in just two years?
In any case, we look forward to his performance, and our future real-life interactions with the “cheeky” Edgar in our everyday lives!
Featured Image Credit: Dr Wong Choon Yue, NTU