Meet Sii: A Social Interface for Assistive Robots

In its effort to build assistive robots, Trinity College Dublin has developed the socially intelligent interface (Sii), a light-weight, 3D-printed robotic head that can express emotions and has three degrees of freedom.

The folks who created Robbie, an assistive robot prototype designed for a limbless teenager, have created the socially intelligent interface (Sii), a light-weight, 3D-printed robotic head designed to be used on mobile platforms.

Built by the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering department at Trinity College Dublin, Sii was designed to be an engaging, practical social interface - something the team says is often missing on mobile robots.

Sii uses LCD screens for its eyes and mouth to display eight different emotions, including anger, disgust and surprise. Sii has three degrees of freedom in its neck that allow it to move forward and back, left to right, and shrug side to side.

“While it may not look it from some of the prototypes, our core mission for all of this work is to develop robots that can increase the independence of people with disabilities or vulnerable groups such as the elderly/injured vets,” project lead Dr. Conor McGinn, an assistant professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering and Trinity College Dublin, tells Robotics Trends.

McGinn says Sii could eventually be integrated onto a mobile platform such as the group’s Aerobot prototype, which was designed to be used in houses and buildings. Aerobot was built with wheels instead of legs so that most of the robot’s weight is in its body, not the legs, to make the robot more adaptable and less expensive.

“We’ve developed [Aerobot] so that it can actually move in four different configurations. And it can transition quite easily between those four configurations,” McGinn tells Reuters. “It allows us to do things like climbing steps, it allows us to do things like crossing gaps that we might need to if the robot needs to get on a train, for example. So we’ve tried to make it so that it’s very simple but it can overcome some of the limitations of a simple system by changing its mechanical configuration.”

McGinn admits there are similarities to Robbie, but he doesn’t consider either Aerobot or Sii to be the next generation of the robot that debuted in 2014. “The motivation for building both platforms was to test new ideas and designs that were not implemented on the Robbie platform,” McGinn tells Robotics Trends.

In fact, McGinn tells Robotics Trends that the team is already in the process of building its next full-sized humanoid platform. “This will combine our [Aerobot] mobility system, [Sii] and a new robotic arm design,” McGinn says. “It will undoubtedly be the most complex machine we’ve developed to date.”

McGinn admits that none of the prototypes are near the commercialization stage, but he does say each iteration has improved on the drawbacks of most current assistive robots.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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