Smart elevator, robot and virtual admin will help guide you at Microsoft Research

At a first-floor bank of elevators at Microsoft Research, a “smart elevator” opens its doors, sensing that you need a ride. When you reach the third floor, a humanoid robot is ready to guide you where you need to go. And if it happens to be Eric Horvitz’s office his virtual admin named Monica, an onscreen avatar with a British accent, greets you. “I was expecting you,” she says. “The robot told me you were coming.”

These experiences are part of the Situated Interaction project, a research effort co-led by Horvitz, a Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond, and his colleague Dan Bohus. Also on the team are Anne Loomis Thompson and Nick Saw.

They are creating a code base that allows for many forms of complex, layered interaction between machines and humans.

The interaction is “situated” in the sense that the smart elevator, robot and admin have situational awareness. For example, they can take into account things like the physicality of a space and the geometry of people’s comings and goings.

The project relies on intensive integration of multiple computational competencies and methods, including machine vision, natural language processing, machine learning, automated planning, speech recognition, acoustical analysis, and sociolinguistics. It also pushes into a new area of research: how to automate processes and systems that understand multiparty interaction.

“We’re addressing core challenges in artificial intelligence,” Horvitz says. “The goal is to build systems that can coordinate and collaborate with people in a fluid, natural manner.”

These “intelligent, supportive assistants,” as Horvitz describes them, could be used in many kinds of roles, from aerospace and medicine to education and disaster relief.

To learn more, head over to Microsoft Research.

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Suzanne Choney
Microsoft News Center Staff