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Marquette Humanoid Robots to the Rescue
Building robots that can save the world. Or at least make a yummy snack.

As evidenced by Marquette professor Andrew Williams’ recent Tweet, some Marquette undergraduates are busy building a humanoid robot. You heard us right. So, with apprehensive curiosity (a natural result of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey), we asked Williams if we could stop by and meet it in person.

Unlike us, Williams, who’s worked at Apple with Steve Jobs, is unfazed. In the future, he expects robots to be as common as the iPhone. “I envision having a robot in every home,” he says. “At least one.”

And in Marquette’s Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics lab, Williams and his students are surrounded by them. Jasmine, one of these unexpectedly adorable orange-and-white humanoid robots purchased by Marquette and programmed by students, shuffles around Williams’ feet. She’s cute. She talks. She can dance, if you teach her. And soon, she’ll learn to prepare ants on a log. (Yes, the raisins and celery snack.)

It’s all part of a research project aimed to determine whether the robots can learn to understand creative food metaphors (raisins as ants, celery pieces as logs, etc.). A team of Marquette undergraduates, along with a handful of students sponsored by their universities in Puerto Rico, spend summer days in the lab programming robots to act as humanoid health coaches aimed at combating childhood obesity.

“My goal,” Williams says, “is to have an educated workforce that knows how to program the robots, knows how to design them and serve human needs in an ethical way.”

And some of his students are on their way to doing just that, as they build their own humanoid robot from scratch. His name is MU-L8 (pronounced emulate). Right now, he can nod his head and move his legs. One day, he may play soccer. After students finish building and programming him, they’ll enter and hope to qualify for the teen-sized humanoid RoboCup competition, where humanoid robots compete in a soccer match.

Perhaps Jasmine will prepare ants on a log for the team, if they get hungry.

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POSTED 1/12/2015