Robots are so FUN! And they can lay eggs… !?

October 17, 2017

Ever wanted to meet a robot face to face? Well our Meet AI audience last Thursday had the chance to meet not only one but two robots!


After four hugely successful Meet AI series, we brought in two very special guests for round five: the potentially best Dad in the world and the robot Olly! (It can't really get better than that). 


Meet AI, the prime knowledge sharing platform for our London-based AI community, keeps increasing in reach. It recently got featured in the Financial Times China and we continue to welcome outstanding speakers at the forefront of their respective fields (AI, Machine Learning, Engineering, Design, Animation, Art, …) from companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Jibo, Emotech and from leading universities such as the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, ETH Zurich and Imperial College London.



Meet AI was launched in May this year in collaboration with the award-winning robotics start-up Emotech and serves as a monthly networking and learning platform to convene the City’s local AI enthusiasts of which there are plenty! Past topics addressed by our guest speakers included TTS; Machine & Reinforcement Learning; AI, Art and Animation; Crowdfunding & AI and many more.


"Educational and fun robots for my daughter"


The first speaker of series 5 was Yi Wei PhD, a Machine Learning Engineer at AI decision-making platform (formerly at Microsoft Research Cambridge) …and I'm sure if we asked his 3-year old daughter Mia, he could pretty much be described as the best Dad in the world!


Driven by a great passion for developing robots that are fun and affordable to design, Yi Wei humbly and very engagingly shared with the audience how he creates moving, talking little wonders of tech for his daughter Mia using open source software. Yi Wei sees robots as a great tool for educational purposes if done well, and walked us through the most important elements of creating a successful robot that get young kids engaged and excited by tech. His first development was a T-Rex long-neck shaped robot, on which, once it was fully running, his daughter was even able to go for a ‘robot ride’ for about 8 seconds “before the machine ran too hot. And that would have been dangerous... For the robot!” he added. (Laughter)


Yi Wei showing his daughter Mia taking a 'robot ride' on the T-Rex robot he created


The ideal robot according to Yi Wei, is interactive, great at speech recognition ("Mia got incredibly excited when the robot could recognize her! There are fantastic Open Source capabilities, I was amazed.”), has good tilting abilities considering the various axes (“it can be kept simple. I started with two axes”), and has the necessary safety measures such as as a low voltage, slow movements, no exposed gears etc. to suit little children.


To the great entertainment of the audience, Yi Wei had brought his T-Rex robot along and demonstrated its best features which continue to make his little daughter Mia beam with joy: the robot 'lays (Kinder)eggs' and 'eats plants'!


Yi Wei's T-Rex 'eating plants' and 'laying Kinder eggs'


Yi Wei also made the audience aware that behind all the exciting stories and successes, there are countless failed attempts and many hours of tinkering. But he highly encouraged the audience to try making robots for themselves!

As robot engineering is a costly hobby, Yi Wei usually dissembles previous models to shape his new creations and reuses the metal and wires. He also shared a range of open source software that helped him get started.

For the future, Yi Wei is keen on making his robots learn how to drive themselves and also exposing them to different simulation environments.


“I’m also particularly interested in controlling a robot in an automatic way, having it learn by itself to make decisions and also making it most power-efficient. Robots are power hungry, so I am constantly seeking ways to save battery and make it more economical"


Yi Wei also addressed the importance of considering the objective function, i.e. having a set goal to constantly measure small successes when building a robot and using this benchmark to optimise from.


'Wake up, Olly!'


The second very special 'guest' of the evening was none other than Olly, the first robot with a personality. Olly was developed by Emotech, a London-based, award-winning robotic company that is set on improving the relationship between humans and tech, making gadgets more 'emotional' and 'warm'.


Azin, a representative of the Emotech team, demonstrated Olly's features to the awed audience. A lengthy and highly engaged Q&A ensued.


Azin from Emotech asking Olly questions...


The robot Olly's uniqueness lies in the emotional intelligence and learning capability it displays. As one audience member acknowledged, "it's got a cheekyness to it. I love it!"


Olly responds to personality traits of each family member, and over time adapts to match each individual. "It won't mirror you, but rather meet you halfway to complement you and become the perfect buddy", explained Azin. 


As Olly never stops learning, it can anticipate your needs after learning your routines, and for instance always tune into your preferred news channel when you wake up or proactively remind you to "take an umbrella, it's raining" thanks so its traffic and travel integration. Olly is thus able to provide updates and make sure you arrive at the workplace on time for instance. 


Olly has just been launched for pre-orders on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo and the Emotech team are currently running a special Early Bird Deal (the Super Early Bird has already sold out). 



Audience commentary from the Q&A 


"What about privacy when it comes to the camera detection? If someone is getting changed for instance?" 

Emotech: "Olly doesn't record pictures, it just analyses shapes mathematically to identify different users. It doesn't process and RAW images. The image recognition feature can also be turned off if preferred. It also has no hidden agenda of for instance suggesting purchases on Amazon or the like"



"How does Olly compromise the needs of several users? How about parental control?"

Emotech:"Olly will be configured to follow commands from parents over those of children. However Olly is not designed to make moral decisions, it's meant to provide assistance to improve day to day productivity"


"What about difficult personalities or personality disorders? How will Olly adapt to these? For instance if someone is bipolar?"

Emotech:"Olly is capable of adapting to all kinds of personalities"



"How does Olly learn?"

Emotech:"It learns by rewards and positive reinforcement. So 'Thank you, Olly' will help it understand that its suggestion was useful, for instance"



"Can I ask Olly to help me with my wife's drinking problem?" (Laughter) 



You can find out more about Olly here... 


Robot lovers can also help shape Olly's features and personality further by volunteering to participate in data collection at Emotech's simulated testing environment near Old Street (East London). If interested, please get in touch with Andy at



Join us for the next Meet AI session on November 22nd! Details to be announced soon on our Cocoon Networks Eventbrite page.



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