Robots Take Center Stage at Nextfest Wired magazine's "Nextfest" convention in Los Angeles offers a look at the next generation of robots — including Keepon, the dancing yellow robot that's made a splash on YouTube.
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Robots Take Center Stage at Nextfest

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Robots Take Center Stage at Nextfest

Robots Take Center Stage at Nextfest

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

There's a video on YouTube right that's a sensation. It's of a little robot dancing to a song by the band Spoon. You can hear it in the background. It doesn't look like a typical awkward robot with, you know, those herky-jerky movements and scary flashing eyes. This one is made of two yellow squishy spheres. It has big eyes and a nose and it's just about six inches high.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

I saw the video. It looks like a little snowman made up of peeps. You know, those yellow bird things you get on Easter?

BRAND: Yeah, yeah. It does. And even though - so it doesn't look anything like us. We don't look like peeps.

SMITH: It's adorable.

BRAND: It is adorable. And - but it seems a lot more human than the robots meant to look human, and it has a name, Keepon. Keepon is from Japan. But I found out that Keepon is here in Los Angeles now at the Wired NextFest Show. So I went to meet him.

I'm here with our tech correspondent Xeni Jarden. Hi, Xeni.

XENI JARDEN: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, here we are in a room that I'm obviously in another universe. This is just filled with all these technological gadgets.

JARDEN: Packed.

BRAND: Yeah. And what is this?

JARDEN: So we're standing in front of a big, maybe like 15 or 20-foot-tall metal structure with these rods that shoot down red laser beams. It's a life harp. So if you can imagine a harp that was made out of red laser beams. And you sort of strum your fingers along the laser beams, the beams of light. That's what makes the sound. And people through it like they're strumming a harp with their bodies.

BRAND: But it's invisible.

JARDEN: Yeah. It's just that - it looks like just plain air.

BRAND: Yeah.

JARDEN: And you touch it and it makes this music.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Okay, you know, what I feel like? I feel like I'm at Grateful Dead concert.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Those people who dance around.

JARDEN: Man. Grateful Dead concerts would have been a lot more fun if they happened with this sort of stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JARDEN: Madeleine, let's find the robot. Let's find Keepon.

BRAND: Keepon. Yeah. I can't stand it anymore. I have to find that little thing and touch it.

JARDEN: The squishy little yellow dancing robot.

Hi.

Mr. HIDEKI KOZIMA (Inventor, Robot Keepon): Hi, nice to meet you.

JARDEN: Likewise.

Mr. KOZIMA: So, I'm the developer and the creator of the robot.

JARDEN: Could you please say your name for us?

Mr. KOZIMA: Yes. My name is Hideki Kozima from Kyoto, Japan.

JARDEN: And you are the roboticist who created Keepon.

Mr. KOZIMA: Yes. I'm a - half me as the roboticist who created Keepon and another half of me is a psychologist to use the Keepon for the child research.

JARDEN: And can you tell us more about how you use Keepon to work with children.

Mr. KOZIMA: Okay. So the Keepon has been used in the pre-school and therapeutically, for autistic kids.

BRAND: Children with autism.

Mr. KOZIMA: Yeah.

JARDEN: To see how they react?

Mr. KOZIMA: We are observing that, how those children interpret intuitively, socially (unintelligible) from the robot behavior.

BRAND: Because maybe they find this tiny little robot that's so cute a lot less threatening than the grown up.

Mr. KOZIMA: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Actually, the robot is pretty small. It's less than five inches tall and it's grab-able, or huggable. So - and there's nothing but the two eyes. Eyes are cameras and the nose is the microphone. So it is pretty easy for them to, well, approach the Keepon and interact with the Keepon.

JARDEN: Do you play with him, yourself?

Mr. KOZIMA: Well, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KOZIMA: I can't tell my private life, but I often play with, well, Keepon. Yeah, that's my best friend.

JARDEN: He's your best friend?

Mr. KOZIMA: Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Okay, Xeni, we've had enough of the cute. Enough of the fun. There is some big news being made here at the Wired NextFest and it doesn't involve robots.

JARDEN: Exactly. Google and the X PRIZE Foundation announced today a $30 million prize for the first company or set of individuals that create a robotic lunar lander that can get to the moon and hang out on the moon long enough to explore - I think it was about a half kilometer of moon terrain, and then send images, send data back to Earth about that.

Mr. WILLIAM POMERANTZ (X PRIZE Foundation): My name is William Pomerantz and I'm the director of Space Projects at the X PRIZE Foundation.

BRAND: Why is this important?

Mr. POMERANTZ: I've always dreamed about Apollo and how cool it would have been to being part of that generation that got to go to the moon the first time, and been secretly jealous that I wasn't part of it. So this is my - the chance for sort of my generation to say, hey, we're here and this is how we're going to do it.

JARDEN: And why does Google get out of it?

Mr. POMERANTZ: We had Google's co-founder Larry Page here onstage announcing the prize and he sort of said we want everyone, all the students in the world to become better at science, technology and (unintelligible) math as long as we get the first crack at hiring them.

BRAND: You know, Xeni, forget $30 million. Why do send Keepon to the moon?

JARDEN: Look, if there's any face that I think the alien overlords out there would welcome with open arms, it would be that cute little guy. I nominate him as a representative of the human species.

BRAND: Off you go. DAY TO DAY's tech contributor Xeni Jarden, thank you very much.

JARDEN: It's always a pleasure, Madeleine.

BRAND: You can see pictures of Keepon as well as a very humanoid robot at our Web site npr.org.

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