Wonderama at the Edinburgh Science Festival

06 April 2008

Interview with 

Pi the Robot, Amy & Henry, Science Festival Communicators


Ben - The Edinburgh International Science Festival was in full swing when the Naked Scientists got to Edinburgh so Meera and I couldn't resist going along to Wonderama: the hands-on event and Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms. When I got there, I was very pleased to be met by a rather robotic sounding welcome...

Pi - the talking robotPi - Welcome to The International Science Festival. It's great to be here. The Engineers of the University built be and brought me here to see you. As soon as I get some legs I'll be able to see a lot more of the Science Festival.

Ben - I'm here with Amy from Herriot Watt University and she's brought along Pi, a talking robot. So Amy, tell me a bit about Pi.

Amy - Pi's our intelligent robot here at the Science Festival. He's able to communicate with kids and tell things like jokes and do wee tricks as well and dance. So the kids interact with him by pressing a series of buttons on the wee keyboard. That communicated to him an action to carry out.

Ben - Is he really a robot or is he just a computer system?

Amy - What we actually have here is a computer system, no difference from what you'd have at home. It's just we've taken it apart so the kids can see the individual sections.

Ben - So how does Pi actually work?

Amy - Well, you can actually ask him yourself if you'd like to come along...

Pi - the talking robotPi - Can I help you? My engineers have made the electronics and mechanics of a robot head. If I only had a brain. I looked in the top of my head and found nothing. Wait a minute, I saw someone putting a sticker called brain on one of the electronic boxes on the display board. Could that be my brain? It looks rather odd, not at all like a human brain. My design engineers call it a processor. Come to think of it, it's the same as a processor in the computers you have at school and at home. I also have some memory storage. That is where a computer keeps the information for days and weeks and years. If the electricity fails then that information is not lost. Thank goodness for that.

Ben - So that's how Pi works but what's the future for Pi?

Amy - They're actually working at the moment on a new model which will be able to recognise facial expressions. Say if somebody's feeling upset or down the robot could recognise this and tell them a joke to cheer them up. They're also working on adding a more human voice at the moment. It is quite monotonous because it is just a computer programme that's used to communicate with users.

Ben - Brilliant, well I look forward to seeing the next generation of Pi. But for now I think I'll let him end with a joke.

Pi - Why was the robot confused?

Ben - I don't know. Why was the robot confused?

Pi - Because he was told to close his mouth and eat his dinner.

Ben - That was Pi, the talking robot from Herriot Watt University. I'm sure I left Meera around here somewhere.

gibbonMeera - I seem to have escaped the environment of the assembly rooms now and stepped into the Amazon jungle. It's quite amazing just how much like a jungle it really looks like in here. I'm here with one of the helpers, Henry. Hello Henry.

Henry - Hello.

Meera - This is really quite and amazing activity.

Henry - That's right, the whole room's been used as a jungle scene and we're actually standing in our camping tent and we're surrounded outside the tent by a thick, dense canopy, lots of vegetation and plants around us. In there we get the children to do different activities and listen to the sounds of the jungle. It's really realistic. We've had people come in who've been in jungles and explain that this is exactly what it's like.

Meera - So what sort of animal sounds have you got the kids listening to?

Henry - We've got lots of gibbon sounds, titi monkeys, orang-utans, crickets. We've also got bats we can hear with our bat detectors and dolphins with our hydrophone. When an animal sound comes into the jungle we get themorangutan to work out what animal that might be from. We give them little hints and clues to guide them to the right decision to which animal sound it is.

Meera - There's a session going on at the moment. I can see a group of kids far in the jungle. They've got headphones and I think they're dipping microphones into logs.

Henry - That's right. In the logs in the jungle we've got little pygmy shrews. We're using microphones on probes and we're probing into the logs and trying to find out where the pygmy shrews are located. It's a bit like a treasure hunt. Not all the logs have shrews in them and the kids find it amazing to find where the shrews are located within and we tell them that's where they're living.

Meera - I guess you're helping them to become aware of animal's habitats and thing like that?

Henry - Yeah, we explain there's lots of animals in the jungle we can't actually hear so we use really good microphones and special equipment to find those animals.

Meera - There's kids over in the far corner. What are they doing there?

amazon dolphinHenry - We're telling the kids that's the Amazon river. We explain to them that zoologists don't often want to get into the Amazon river to try and find the animals because there's nasty things like piranhas and crocodiles that may be lurking in the depths. They have to use a hydrophone. It's an underwater microphone. We listen out for the sounds of the Amazonian Boto Dolphin. The kids found that amazing to listen to a dolphin.

Meera - What do you want the kids to leave here remembering?

Henry - We want the kids to understand that if we can't see where the animals are we use sound as a very important instrument to find where the animals are.


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