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The development of the huggable social robot Probo. On the hardware design and construction

Tuesday, 22 December, 2009 - 15:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
auditorium P. Janssens
Kristof Goris
phd defence

The upcoming generation of robots will collaborate with humans in many aspects of the daily life: from
domestic tasks to elderly, health and child care. Communication is hereby essential. More than 60% of
human communication is non-verbal, mostly by facial expressions. Therefore it is very important to
develop robots that are able to reproduce and interpret these expressions. The ability of these robots
to interact and communicate with people in a natural, intuitive, and social way makes that humans get
familiar and related to them. Hence, these robots are equipped with issues as a personality, facial
expressions, gesture, social intelligence, etc.

This dissertation describes the design of the intelligent huggable social robot Probo. Probo will be
used as a companion for vulnerable children in a hospital environment and as a multidisciplinary
research platform to study human robot interaction (HRI). To achieve these goals, a concept of a new
child friendly artificial creature, with its own name, origin and history, has been developed. Probo is
made to believe as being part of the Proboscidea family. Proboscidea is an order that now contains
only one family of living animals, the elephants. It links Probo's name and origin, and refers to the
intriguing trunk. With its green colour Probo evokes mainly positive emotions such as relaxation and

The main design features for Probo are emotional face-to-face communication and safe interaction.
The focuss of this dissertation was on the mechanical design and construction of the prototype Probo,
in particular its expressive head with twenty actuated degrees of freedom. The robot has twenty high
precision motors in its head and body. They are used to actuate the ears, eyebrows, eyelids, eyes,
trunk, mouth and neck. To build safety aspects intrinsically in the robot's hardware all the motors are
linked with flexible components. In case of a collision the robot will be elastic and safety will be
ensured. The mechanics of Probo are covered by protecting plastic shells, foam and soft fur. This
gives Probo's animal-like look, and makes the robot huggable.