Christchurch HITlab reaches out to robotkind

Robot language developed by PhD student will enable humans and robots to talk to each other

Researchers at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (Hit Lab NZ), based at the University of Canterbury, have developed a language to enable humans and robots to talk to one another more reliably.

A conventional human language has a large vocabulary and many words have a similar sound to words with a very different meaning; this can lead to misunderstanding, explains Christoph Bartneck, who initiated the development of the new language.

Known as Roila (Robot Interaction Language), it has now been published in book form. Learning ROILA is available as a paperback from Amazon.com. A Kindle Edition and an ePub Edition are also available.

The language, created by PhD student Omar Mulbin over three years, includes a vocabulary of 800 words and uses basic grammar that is said to be simple for people to learn and easier for robots to understand than natural speech.

“Most previously developed artificial languages have not been able to attract many human speakers,” Mulbin says.

“We did everything we could to make this artificial language as easy to lean as possible and we focused on the most important words that are needed to communicate. We realise there is a trade- off in that you have to learn a new language but you also save a lot of time in the long run with increased accuracy of speech recognition. We calculated that trade-off and we know how useful it can be,” he says.

Bartneck says the new language has already attracted the interest of international companies like LEGO, who can see the potential for their robotics products such as Mindstorms. Such a language will become increasingly useful as the number of robots in use grows, he says.

Talking robot

As an illustration of the language, Mulbin shows, on the website www.roila.org a translation of science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

The first line is Asimov’s original English expression of the law; the second is the translation into Roila and the third a literal expression of the Roila in simplified English.

Law 1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Jewomo kilu. Lobo waboki buse nijofa losa bebibe jilufe buno buse jilufe.

Law 1. Robot must no damage man through act or no act.

Law 2: A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Jewomo seju. Lobo waboki nomes jilufe sojan fumene tuji bufo jifi pofan losa kenet similu bopup jewomo kilu.

Law 2. Robot must take act any order(s) give(n) by man, if agreement with Law one.

Law 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Jewomo tewajo. Lobo waboki pisal jalawe bamas fenob fomu takanu kenet similu bopup jewomo kilu sowu jewomo seju.

Law 3. Robot must make safe this life of self, if agreement with Law 1 and Law 2.

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