Probo, ‘an intelligent, autonomous huggy robot’.
Probo: ‘an intelligent, autonomous huggy robot’.

Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft, has backed a firm specialising in the creation of robots to aid child care experiences in hospitals.

The robot is being developed by Anty, based in Hoeilaart, Belgium, who aim to create ‘an intelligent, autonomous huggy robot’.

According to the company, Gates has predicted that the next hot topic for IT is robotics and Anty could help to turn this into reality.

In an article credited to Gates, the company says: “A hospitalisation is a serious physical and mental occurrence, especially for children. It brings them in situations which are completely different from what they are used to at home. In a hospital, children’s experiences are more limited due to the closed and protective environment. These situations and limitations lead to many difficulties and special needs, which the ANTY project will try to improve by creating a special friend visiting the children.”

The Robotics & Multibody Mechanics research group (R&MM) and Electronics and Informatics department (ETRO) at the University of Brussels, together with the ANTY Foundation, have started up the Anty project to address these challenges.

Gates says of their work: “They are creating a robot called ‘Probo’ which will be used as a tele-interface to interact with the children on three different levels: entertainment, communication and medical treatments. The R&MM research group will take care of the mechanical part of the robot, whereas ETRO will focus on the aspects of vision, hearing and speech.

“The development and construction of a first prototype has started and is hoped to be available towards 2008. The prototype will support the further growth of the project. Alongside the technical research possibilities, the prototype will be used to examine the opportunities for using Anty in medical, social and psychological research. This research will provide relevant feedback to optimize the prototype towards a useful ‘social’ robot.”

The main technical research areas are: vision, speech, A.I. and mechanical design focusing on intrinsic safety. Concerning the research in the medical areas, the possibilities in Robot Assisted Therapy will be explored.

Research in social and psychological areas will focus on child-robot interaction and emotional communication.

An Anty spokesperson told EHE: “The Anty project is an interdisciplinary research project aiming to develop a robotic friend for hospitalized children called Probo. The ANTY project will be used to accomplish three important goals concerning different areas of interest. The first and main goal is to develop and build the robot to enlighten the children’s stay in the hospital. A second goal is to use the robot as a multidisciplinary research platform for technical, medical, social and psychological studies. The third goal is to use the project to motivate students and to stimulate new technological innovation.”