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cmurobotics / youtube

Playing Scrabble with Victor, the Gamebot

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cmurobotics / youtube

“I have legs,” Nick says.

“My head alone is twice your worth,” Victor replies. Victor likes to trash talk when he plays Scrabble. My friend Nick does, too. Only Victor is a robot. A trash-talking, Scrabble-playing robot.

Victor will play Scrabble with anyone who visits the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Reid Simmons, a research professor at CMU’s Robotic Institute, came up with the idea for the gamebot five years ago. The goal is to come up with a robot that converses with humans naturally; Victor's creators hope the gamebot will help them do that. “We’re looking at how people interact and how changes in the way that Victor interacts change the way that people interact," Simmons says. "Does emotion [or] a move play a role in how people interact? Will they notice if Victor is happy or angry and will that affect the way that people interact?”

Playing Scrabble with a Robot

I am not a good Scrabble player. When the robot’s handler, Greg Armstrong, senior research technician at Carnegie Mellon University, directs me to taunt Victor by saying “I’m going to win,” the robot replies with “What scores are you looking at?” If he can’t think of a good response, the robot says, “Talk is cheap, silence is expensive.” Most of the robot's witty remarks were written by Michael Chemers, an associate professor of theater arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz. (Chemers also created the backstory for the robot and updates his Facebook page.)

Aside from the biting remarks—which increase in frequency when he is losing—Victor has an encyclopedic memory for the rules and immediately knows whether a word is valid or not. When Nick accidentally plays an incorrect word, Qa, Victor forces Nick to lose his turn—it's a Scrabble rule. But the bot has a bit of a pop culture blind spot: When Nick pulls ahead in the game and tells Victor that “resistance is futile,” the Scrabble-playing robot doesn't understand the Borg reference. Somebody forgot to program Victor with important Star Trek trivia.

When Victor becomes excited, his blockhead swivels and bobs a little, what Armstrong calls a “happy head bounce.” He has no arms or legs, so his head is the primary way he conducts nonverbal communication.

Simmons believes that by understanding how people interact with Victor, researchers will make robots that will better relate to humans. He thinks that robots will one day live with elderly or disabled people and help them live independently. Maybe a patient should be exercising, but isn’t listening to the robot’s instruction; should the robot get angry about it, or issue gentle rebukes? Using a game helps Simmons understand how people respond to robot "emotions."

“I want to emphasize we’re not doing this just to have a robot to play Scrabble," he says. "Scrabble is just the medium to have people come and sit down and interact with a robot for a longer period of time."

One disadvantage is that Victor can’t hear. At the start of the game, Victor tells us that he is deaf. We must type everything to him. This means Victor misses the casual conversation between Nick and me, making our comments to him seem forced (also, he doesn’t know that I told Nick that the humans have to work together against the robots). Simmons says he’s aware of this problem, but found that speech recognition capabilities aren’t advanced enough for Victor to hear.  

“The speech recognition goes down a lot and it becomes a frustrating experience,” he says.

Simmons is keeping logs of the conversations between Scrabble players and Victor to understand how players react to Victor. After working out the kinks with the game, he plans on setting up scientific experiments to see how people act if Victor plays angry all the time or acts happy when he should act frustrated.

“[We want to] see if people notice a difference … if he plays angry when he is ahead and happy when it is behind," Simmons says. "It is very easy to change that and see how it affects how people play.”

In the end, Victor and I both lose to Nick—but we're both within 10 points of him. Until next time, Victor!

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Samsung’s Star Wars Vacuums Offer Everything You Want in a Droid
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Hate housecleaning but love Star Wars? Samsung’s got the solution. In anticipation of December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the newest film in the Star Wars saga, Samsung has transformed a limited number of its VR7000 POWERbot robot vacuum cleaners into two familiar faces from George Lucas’s legendary space opera: a Stormtrooper and Darth Vader (which comes with Wi-Fi connectivity and a remote control).

In order to create a unique device that would truly thrill Star Wars aficionados, Samsung consulted with fans of the film throughout each stage of the process. The result is a pair of custom-crafted robo-vacuums that fill your home with the sounds of a galaxy far, far away as they clean (when you turn Darth Vader on, for example, you'll hear his iconic breathing).

“We are very pleased to be part of the excitement leading up to the release of The Last Jedi and to be launching our limited edition POWERbot in partnership with Star Wars fans,” B.S. Suh, Samsung’s executive vice president, said in a press statement. “From its industry-leading suction power, slim design, and smart features, to the wonderful character-themed voice feedback and sound effects, we are confident the Star Wars limited edition of the VR7000 will be a big hit.”

Be warned that this kind of power suction doesn’t come cheap: while the Stormtrooper POWERbot will set you back $696, the Darth Vader vacuum retails for $798. Who knew the Dark Side was so sparkling clean?

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22 Emojis That Look Completely Different on Different Phones
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Emojis are a great addition to our communication toolbox. Without saying a word, we can talk about people, places, things, and emotions. But different platforms sometimes display the same emoji specification in different ways. An eye roll might come across as petulant or cheerful. A snake might look threatening or adorable. To help you navigate some potentially confusing cross-platform interactions, here are 22 emojis (referred to by their programming code names) that come out with important differences on Apple (iOS 11.1), Google (Android 8), and Samsung (Galaxy S8).


3 different face with rolling eyes emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Way to miss the point.
Google: Ugh. Oh boy. Nice one. NOT!
Samsung: Heh, heh. Neato.


3 different snake emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Beware!
Google: Beware?
Samsung: Aww. Snakey-poo.


Three different nerd face emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Nerdy cuteness.
Google: Nerdy excitement!
Samsung: Nerdy astonishment!


Three different cookie emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Mmm. Delicious chocolate chips…
Google: Raisins? Nuts?
Samsung: Uh, thanks for the cookie?


Three different loudly crying face emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: River of tears.
Google: Waterfall of tears.
Samsung: Cast adrift on a lake of tears.


Three different ghost emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Ready for a goofy good scare?!
Google: Me scary! (*wink*)
Samsung: (*clears throat*) Um, boo.


Three different couch and lamp emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Midcentury modern pad.
Google: Office waiting room.
Samsung: Haunted Victorian hotel.


Three different chipmunk emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Cute? No. Please allow me my dignity.
Google: Tee hee. Cute!
Samsung: Where did I put those nuts…


Three different octopus emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Oh. You surprised me there.
Google: Boo! I surprise YOU!
Samsung: Hellooooooo, over there.


Three different cat emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Always identified more with the mice, actually.
Google: On the internet, everyone loves a cat!
Samsung: Your texts are tedious.


Three different pizza emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Pepperoni.
Google: Pepperoni and olives.
Samsung: Pepperoni, olives, and extra cheese.


Three different man dancing emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Disco in the '70s.
Google: Miami Vice in the '80s.
Samsung: Dabbing, whipping, and nae-naeing at the middle school.


Three different old man emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: More like middle-aged.
Google: Old and yet somehow babyish.
Samsung: Very prematurely grey kid.


Three different running shoe emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Ready for the 5K.
Google: Ready for some stickball.
Samsung: Ready for the playground.


Three different detective emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Experienced and ready to assist.
Google: No experience yet, but can’t wait to start!
Samsung: Seen too much.


Three different person surfing emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Awesome!
Google: Pretty fun.
Samsung: Whoa. Help.


Three different framed picture emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: For the nursery.
Google: For the den.
Samsung: For the great hall.


Three different drooling face emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Sooo delicious…
Google: Sooo incomprehensible…
Samsung: Sooo disturbing…


Three different clapping emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Pay attention!
Google: Polite applause.
Samsung: Hushed appreciation.


Three different t-shirt emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Casual Friday at the office.
Google: Saturday at the gym.
Samsung: Sunday on the couch.


Three different person frowning emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Hurt and disappointed.
Google: Crushed and disappointed.
Samsung: Not gonna stand for it anymore.


Three different fearful face emojis from Apple, Google, and Samsung

Apple: Yikes! Aaack! No way!
Google: Oh dear! Why! I feel sick!
Samsung: Bzzzt! Yoinks!

Check the platform differences for all the emojis at Emojipedia.


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