June 13, 2005
Alumnus Todd Kozuki was part of an entourage from Sony that brought the company's two-foot tall humanoid robot to campus. QRIO danced, talked and schmoozed through a 20-minute show. In the future a QRIO may be as common in the home as a television set is today, Kozuki says.
When Sony Electronics President and COO Hideki "Dick" Komiyama introduced his company's QRIO robot to the Carnegie Mellon community, all eyes in the packed Rangos Hall were on a pair of silver-colored, two-foot tall, autonomous robots that danced, talked and schmoozed their way through a 20-minute show.
But no one was more attentive than Sony software engineer Todd Kozuki, a Carnegie Mellon alum who makes a living out of working with Sony's humanoid robot QRIO and robot dog AIBO, on stage and behind the scenes.
A California native, with bachelor's (2000) and master's (2001) degrees from Carnegie Mellon's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Kozuki knows QRIOs intimately down to the fact that their plastic bodies are covered with a 12-15 coat paint job "just like a Mercedes Benz."
But the similarities end there. QRIO, whose name means Quest for Curiosity, can be wirelessly controlled from a computer or function autonomously. Using seven microphones around its head to localize sound and two cameras behind its eyes to detect color and movement and recognize faces, QRIO senses and maps the environment to plan its next move.
No less than 38 Sony custom motors and 12 sensors in QRIO's body and feet help it to balance and move in a lifelike manner. If the robot falls, it instinctively puts its arms out to protect the vital parts of its body, and stands up from a fall in any direction only after determining that its environment is safe.
But dancing is what QRIOs do best. They perform dances inspired by many cultures, from the United Arab Emirates to Central America and beyond.
The Tai Chi dance demonstrates balance and functionality. The Okinawa dance reveals QRIO's smooth, natural movement, even at a speedy tempo. And the QRIO dance is pure techno, like the robots themselves.
A number of QRIO teams from Japan travel to audiences in Europe and Asia. Kozuki's team works from San Diego, taking QRIOs, Sony's corporate ambassadors, to North and South America.
Kozuki didn't always plan to work with robots. But he found one of the most valuable parts of his education was the work experience he gained building a robotic boat, an experience that helped Kozuki realize that he would rather program robots than computers.
His break into the robotics world came in 1999, when Kozuki was still a student at Carnegie Mellon. His aunt, who worked for Sony Sales and Marketing in Japan, let him know that Sony was looking for someone to work with the AIBOs at a trade show in San Francisco. This was his big opportunity, and he jumped at the chance. Six years later, Kozuki is still excited about his job.
"I'm very fortunate to have this job with AIBO and QRIO, and have an impact on the development of these robots," he says. "They continually amaze me."
The robots also amaze and enthrall audiences around the world, and Kozuki says that sharing the possibilities of technology with captivated audiences is a thrilling part of his job.
"The thing that's unique about QRIO is its personality and voice. People are very interested in the work we do, in the idea of developing a humanoid to live in a household and be a companion," Kozuki says.
QRIO walks, talks, sees, hears, interacts, expresses feeling, gathers information and dances. So, what's in store for the future generations of QRIOs?
"Sony hopes one day QRIO will become a friendly user interface for all your home electronics. In the future a QRIO may be as common in the home as a television set is today," Kozuki says. "Imagine QRIO as a personal agent. He could replace Google. Imagine an AIBO that can monitor your house for you and e-mail you a picture of what's happening."
Reprinted with permission, Carnegie Mellon Today, April 2005. Text by Jenni King