Robotic User Interface for Interpersonal Communication

RobotPHONE is a Robotic User Interface (RUI) that uses robots as physical avatars for interpersonal communication. Using RobotPHONE, users in remote locations can communicate shapes and motion with each other.

For a long time, robots have chiefly been considered as machines that perform work in the place of human beings, such as industrial robots. However, considering the characteristic of their physical embodiment, robots can also be recognized as interfaces for human beings. The concept of using a robot as an interface between the real world and the information world can be referred to as a Robotic User Interface (RUI).

The RobotPHONE system employs robots as devices that are called shape-sharing. The shape and motion of remote shape-sharing devices are always synchronized. Operations to the robot, such as the modification of posture, or the input of motion, are reflected to the remote end in real-time. Therefore, users of RobotPHONE can communicate and interact with each other by exchanging the shape and motion of the robot.

It can be said that RobotPHONE is a system that makes it possible to have an object exist virtually in a remote place on behalf of user. RobotPHONE transfers the existence of the user not by attempting to transmit the user itself but to transmit the user's substitute.

Initial Prototype

As an initial prototype based on the RobotPHONE concept, we implemented an experimental system which has two snake-like robots for a shape-sharing device. Each snake-like robot has six parallel axes, and these axes make a right angle with the long side of the snake's body. Therefore, the range of body movement is limited to the two-dimensional plane, but the body itself represents a shape that can be easily modified by hand.

RobotPHONE Prototype 1

[mpeg movie(3.8M)]

Second Prototype

We integrated the second RobotPHONE system with a voice communication system, and gave it the appearance of a teddy bear. By using the teddy bear-like robot as a shape-sharing device, we also intended to refine the essence of a communication device. When a user communicates with this system, the teddy bear acts as his/her physical avatar. Therefore it was very important to give the teddy bear-like robot similar shape and placement of degrees of freedom to a human being.

RobotPHONE Prototype 2

RobotPHONE Prototype 2

[mpeg movie(6.3M)]
To be demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2001 Emerging Technologies


mail: robotphone (at)