A Robot Called Pepper Can Teach Visitors Swahili at the Smithsonian

Pepper the Robot at the 2017 New Yorker TechFest in New York City
Pepper the Robot at the 2017 New Yorker TechFest in New York City
Brian Ach, Getty Images for The New Yorker

"Hakuna matata" may very well be the only Swahili phrase that many people outside of East Africa have ever heard (thanks, Lion King), but a 4-foot-tall humanoid robot named Pepper is working to change that.

The National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.—part of the Smithsonian Institution's network—is using Pepper to explain the meaning of Swahili words and phrases that appear in its artworks. The Smithsonian says it's the first museum complex in the world to use this particular robot, which was developed by SoftBank Robotics in 2014, made available to Japanese consumers in 2015, and later released to a wider market.

Considered to be the world's first robot capable of reading emotions, Pepper is multi-talented. He has already found a home in several different Smithsonian sites, where he interacts with visitors, answers questions, plays games, tells stories, and even dances.

Pepper the Robot talks to children at the National Museum of African Art
Courtesy of Smithsonian

For the Museum of African Art's new exhibition on Swahili arts, which opens on May 9, Pepper will be tasked with helping visitors better understand the ways in which African art influences global culture, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

"Proverbs and words are so important in African art and in the context of the culture, so having Pepper reinforce those ideals is so valuable," Michelle Edwards, the museum coordinator who wrote the robot's script, told the magazine.

Swahili is spoken on the east coast of Africa, and it's a lingua franca—or bridge language—in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, and Uganda. The language was greatly influenced by the region's contact with Arabic-speaking traders over several centuries and contains many loan words from Arabic. Even the word swahili itself comes from the Arabic sawahili, meaning "of the coast." Today, it has between 100 and 140 million speakers around the world.

Training Pepper to speak Swahili correctly, though, was no easy feat. Edwards reportedly spent weeks trying to get the pronunciation just right.

SoftBank, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian, donated about 30 robots to its network of museums. In addition to the African Art Museum, Peppers are peppered throughout several other Smithsonian sites, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Castle, and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

Outside of the U.S., Peppers have taken over Belgian hospitals (as receptionists), Japanese funerals (as Buddhist priests), and even a Scottish grocery store (although, after a week, he was relieved of his duties as a customer liaison due to being generally unhelpful).

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]

Watch an AI-Powered Robot Take the Fun Out of 'Where's Waldo'

YouTube
YouTube

"There's Waldo" is the name of an AI-powered robot that has been trained to swiftly suck all the fun out of the beloved children's books. As Popular Mechanics reports, the robot can pick Waldo's pom-pom beanie and striped shirt out of a crowd in just 4.45 seconds, "which is better than most 5-year-olds," according to the robot's maker.

Built by creative agency Redpepper, the robot is linked to Google's AutoML Vision service, which was fed 107 photos of Waldo from Google Images.

"I thought that wouldn't be enough data to build a strong model, but it gives surprisingly good predictions on Waldos that weren't in the original training set," Matt Reed, creative technologist at Redpepper, tells The Verge.

The robot's mechanical arm is equipped with a Vision Camera Kit, which lets it snap photos of the page and send them to AutoML Vision to be analyzed. Disconcertingly, the otherwise industrial-looking robot has a rubber hand that it uses to point to Waldo when it's at least 95 percent sure that the man on the page is, indeed, Waldo. Alas, once the machines take over, "Where's Waldo?" will just be one more phrase that future generations won't understand.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

How to Rig Your Android Phone to Play Old Floppy Disk Games

iStock
iStock

Owning a smartphone means you have thousands of games at your fingertips, but capturing the nostalgia of playing a game saved on a floppy disk isn't as simple as downloading an app. Reviving floppy disk games for the smartphone era is a bit more complicated, and YouTube vintage video game reviewer LGR shows you just how to do it step by step.

In this video, spotted by Kotaku, LGR takes an old floppy disk, the same kind you used in your computer class at school, and uses it to play a classic video game on a smartphone. This is made possible with an Android phone, a USB connector, an Android USB adaptor, and a portable floppy disk drive that's about as big as the phone itself. (The hardware doesn't work for iPhones, but if you're an Apple user there are plenty of ways to play old PC games online).

Just inserting the disk into the drive when it's connected to your phone isn't enough to start playing: You need to download a special app that mimics Microsoft's old disk operating system, like Magic Dosbox, for example. Once you have that on your phone, you can use it to open whatever game is saved to your floppy disk.

Because old PC games weren't made for touchscreens, the smartphone gameplay can be a little be a little awkward—but if you're willing to hook a floppy disk drive up to your phone, convenience likely isn't your goal. You can watch LGR's full instructions in the video below.

[h/t Kotaku]

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