Social Robots Are Just as Prevalent in Europe as They are in Japan

Japan might be famous for its robot receptionists and companions. Yet over in Belgium, roboticists have spread service bots equipped with their software to 300 institutions already.

“Most people think that Japan is more advanced in terms of robotics, but during the past two and half years, we’ve had at least 10,000 people come into contact with our humanoid robots,” Fabrice Goffin, co-CEO of Zora Robotics in Ostend, Belgium, told me over the phone.

Goffin set up Zora Robotics six years ago with Deblieck while they were in Qatar as consultants for the hospitality sector. The pair designed a software that can be installed on humanoid robotics company Aldebaran’s Nao robot, widening its functions beyond the academic sphere to the service sector as well.

Nao bots equipped with Zora Robotics software are, for instance, being used in hospitals and elderly homes to help motivate children with burns and old people to exercise, and in hotels where the robots greet people. This week, Zora Robotics is announcing its plan to roll its software out onto Softbank’s Pepper robot and to release it into Belgium hospitals this year. They launched their first Pepper robot at Citadelle Liege Hospital in Belgium Monday.

“Our software is compareable with Windows for computers. We have a sort of Windows for robots, which allows people to program the robot,” explained Goffin. “We are creating an interaction between people and robots, but not with artificial intelligence. We are working with databases.”

Goffin and Deblieck have made a database composed from over 1,000 questions and 1,000 answers. When the robot is asked a question by a human, the database onboard the robot allows it to match the right answer to the question. For instance, the Pepper robots used in hospitals will be able to respond to greetings as well as tell the time, and give directions. More questions and answers can be added to the script over time.

The idea is that the robot learns from the human it interacts with, and not by itself. Goffin compared the process to Google translate, in which people can add translations to the platform so that its translation capabilities improve over time.

To read the rest of this article, published in Motherboard, please click here.