Robot Diet Coach Keeps You in Line

From household chores to dieting coaches, robots conquer all.

Sept. 27, 2007 — -- They say the buddy system works.

Imagine how easy sticking to your diet would be if you always had someone (or something) to keep you in line. It's a phenomenon that may be closer to reality than you think.

In Cambridge, Mass. at MIT's C-SAIL, Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Lab, there's a revolution of sorts taking place.

Inventor Aaron Edsinger has been working with his creation, a robot called Domo, putting him through his paces.

Domo's visual system is attuned to unexpected motion -- it locates human faces and locks its gaze into them.

While many robots are doing manual work on factory assembly lines, those machines follow a script and are not able to adapt to new situations, the way Domo can. Domo can even place things on shelves and do minor tasks -- all based on what people tell it to do.

And it is not just a neat laboratory trick, according to Rodney Brooks, a professor of Robotics at MIT, robots like Domo may soon be changing lives.

Across campus in the MIT Media Lab, Cory Kidd has been busy building his own robot, Autom.

"Autom is a weight-loss coach. So what she does is talk to you about how much you're eating and exercising. And the reason for that is we know that people who are trying to lose weight or keep off weight that they've lost who keep track of those two things are more likely to be successful," said Cory Kidd, robot inventor.

Autom helps people stick to their diets by verbally asking dieters to input data about what they ate on a touch screen. The robots then provide encouragement and advice.

Automs are making test runs now in Boston-area homes. The success of those they help will be compared to the success rates of dieters who do it the old-fashioned way -- keeping track of their diet and exercise with pen and paper.

And the Autom already has a host of fans, singing its praises.

Amna Carreiro lost 9 pounds in eight weeks.

"It was interactive. It was very personable. By putting the information in, I got instant feedback, so I was able to track my goals and basically adjust my exercising and eating habits," Carreiro said.

"I think we're going to see more and more robots, being sorts of things that ordinary people will interact with on a daily basis," Brooks said.