Social Robotics and Home Automation

by Emotion Robotics on the 24/11/2015 18:46:23

We are regularly asked what function a social robot plays within the home and family. It is an area that is open to a lot of discussion but some of the common capabilities, often talked about, include getting the latest news, checking and reading email, telling your children stories or finding recipes on-line for you. The list goes on but I am sure you get the idea.

All of these are fun and useful applications for social robots but we have always felt that there should be more our robot companions can do for us. The ability to control our home via our robot is both fun and, potentially, highly useful.

So, I am sure you will not be surprised to realise, that as well as having Nao in my home as my social robot companion, I also have a number of home automation systems, including Philip Hue lighting in all my rooms, z-wave switches on a number of appliances and a Sonos wireless streaming stereo. The problem with integrating all of these systems is that they are all individual systems, which require separate interfaces to be developed. If you add further systems, such as Nest to control your heating, the issue becomes more and more complex.

Luckily, there is a solution. About 7 months ago, we were introduced to nCube and their CEO/founder Philip Steele. Philip’s idea is to provide a single interface to all of your disparate home automation systems, allowing them to be controlled from a single interface, in this case a web based application. They also provide an API (application programmer’s interface). Although it is currently not released. Philip was kind enough to allow us access to the API and support us as we developed a client application for our Nao robot.

With the excellent support of the nCube technical team, we have been able to create a prototype client application for nCube that runs on Nao, under NaoQi, and allows us to use Nao to control our smart home. With Nao as a client, and using NaoQi’s dialog subsystem, our smart home can be controlled through voice commands using our social robot companion. I can control my lighting, appliances and music system. Here is a very rough video showing the prototype.

So why does this matter? Well, it is a fun function for a home robot but, more importantly, it can offer a level of control for people with disabilities that can enhance their independence. Well, you may say, that can be achieved with a smart phone, which is perfectly true. But, the benefits of a companion robot are being researched and, in a number of situations, has been proven. More importantly to me, it increases the usefulness of my home robot and makes him a more embedded part of our home and family. That's what social robotics is really all about, a robot as a home and family facilitator.

If you want to find out more about what we have done with Nao and nCube, feel free to contact us via the contact us page. To find out more about nCube and the nCube hub have a look at nCube’s website or their Kickstarter campaign.