New Robot Coach Created to Keep Dieters in Line
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September 28, 2007

New Robot Coach Created to Keep Dieters in Line

Robocop792844_2 Those participating in a study involving having their own robot coach, say sticking to their diet is easier with a mealtime Robocop around to keep you in line. It's a trend that may well take off as desperate dieters take on the battle of the bulge.

At MIT's C-SAIL, Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Lab, Aaron Edsinger has been busily working with his robot creation called Domo. Domo's visual system is attuned to unexpected motion and can locates human faces and locks its gaze with others giving him a more human presence.

While many robots are doing manual work on factory assembly lines, those machines are following a script, where as Domo can adapt to new situation. Domo can put items away for you and do minor tasks, based on others tell him to do.

But Domo’s skills may be soon put to use for more than just cool laboratory tricks, says Rodney Brooks, a professor of Robotics at MIT. He says robots like Domo may soon be changing lives. At the MIT Media Lab, Cory Kidd has been busy building his own robot, Autom.

"Autom is a weight-loss coach. So what she does is talk to you about how much you're eating and exercising. And the reason for that is we know that people who are trying to lose weight or keep off weight that they've lost who keep track of those two things are more likely to be successful," said Kidd.

Autom helps people stick to their diets by verbally asking dieters to input data about what they ate on a touch screen. The robots then provide encouragement and advice based on that imput.

Automs are making test runs now in Boston-area homes. The success of those they help will be compared to the success rates of dieters who do it the old-fashioned way -- keeping track of their diet and exercise with pen and paper.

But before the results are in, Autom has already earned praises and a host of new fans, who say the “buddy” system works.

Amna Carreiro, for example, attributes losing 9 pounds in eight weeks to her robo companions encouragement.

"It was interactive. It was very personable. By putting the information in, I got instant feedback, so I was able to track my goals and basically adjust my exercising and eating habits," Carreiro said.

"I think we're going to see more and more robots, being sorts of things that ordinary people will interact with on a daily basis," Brooks said.

Now if only they’d equip this dieting coach with a gun—surely we’d start seeing even more rapid compliance and weight-loss goals met.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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