Tech upstart looks to create terrifying robot apes

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 29, 2012 14:25 EDT
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Professor Ken Schweller (center) and team pose with their bonobo ape robot prototype. Courtesy, Kistarter.com.
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A new solicitation on the crowdsourcing investment website Kickstarter proposes an unusual thing: robots that bonobo apes can control.

The proposal was posted by researchers at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa, where software is being developed to help facilitate human-to-bonobo communication using touch screen devices.

By memorizing a series of symbols, the apes are able to use the software to communicate whole sentences — but that’s just the beginning, if Buena Vista University professor Ken Schweller has his way.

He envisions the apes one day using his application to control their environment, doing things like opening doors, accessing vending machines and even interacting with members of the public in surprising ways.

To those ends, Schweller says he’s trying to acquire $20,000 in financing to further develop bonobo telepresence robots, and has even built two versions of an ape-like robot that could one day interface with his bonobo keyboard.

“We believe that controlling robots might be a good way for the bonobos to interact with guests and visitors outside their caged areas,” he wrote. “They could play chase games or squirt guests with an an on board watergun. They could operate the robot out of site by navigating using an on board camera.”

The robots would also be useful for researchers studying bonobo behavior and language, giving them a tangible data metric to track and study over time.

While it may sound and look quite bizarre, Schweller is not necessarily a pioneer in this realm. The Dutch Organization for Scientific Research said earlier this year that it had created an online multiplayer game for humans and pigs, using two connected touch screen devices. Another application for Apple mobile devices, called Games for Cats, engages humans and felines in a similar touch screen challenge.

Schweller’s project, however, clearly goes further than that — because, after all, who wouldn’t want to be menaced by a robo-ape armed with a water gun?

(H/T: io9)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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