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How Long ­ntil We Can Build R2-D2 and C-3po?


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"I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations. And this is my counterpart R2-D2."

When it comes to basic capabilities such as walking, talking, and sensing surroundings, we are getting closer and closer to what would be required to build the robots that appear in the "Star Wars" films.

Credit: Gordon Tarpley

Creating socially intelligent, interactive robots such as those depicted in the "Star Wars" films is a challenging proposal, involving an integration of diverse technologies, writes University of Glasgow lecturer Mary Ellen Foster.

The technical building blocks for such machines--such as walking technology, speech recognition/synthesis, and computer vision--are steadily advancing. However, the challenge lies in putting them together in a way the resulting robot can understand and provide non-verbal communication and appropriate contextual interpretation and response.

Foster says the field of data science may hold the key to the realization of truly socially intelligent robots.

Robot developers' approach to interactive machines has shifted from using preprogrammed rules to machine learning. The latter approach involves recording interactions between people or between people and robots, and then "teaching" the robot how to act based on what that data shows, enabling the device to be much more flexible and adaptive. Moreover, the addition of deep learning is helping robots learn behavior from raw data, giving them much more open-ended potential.

Foster notes these methods already have led to significant advancements in speech recognition and computer vision.

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