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Korean Wins Robot Design Competition

Posted September. 22, 2006 05:59,   


A graduate student dreaming of being a robot designer in the future won the first prize in an international robot design contest.

In the Robot Companion Design Contest held between September 6 and 8 at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K., Sonya S. Kwak (28), a student in the Ph.D. program of the department of industrial design at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), won the first prize for her emotive robot “Haemi.”

It was in the winter break of 2000, just a year before graduation, when she first made up her mind to become a robot designer. “It was after I had a big quarrel with my boyfriend. I needed a friend to console me. I had much trouble to come up with an idea to reconcile with my boyfriend. And then, I began thinking about robots.”

The boyfriend in her speech is now her husband.

Kwak decided to make a robot friend that could read master’s emotions and tune its own reactions accordingly, and that’s how “Haemi,” which was exhibited in the contest, was born.

“A friend should always be beside you. So I drafted the design based on a hamster, a tiny and friendly pet. Haemi not only mimics people, but also understands their feelings. For example, it consoles and even dances for its master when he/she is crying.”

After presenting “Haemi” as her graduation project for her bachelor’s degree, Kwak proceeded to the graduate school in order to be a robot designer. Her father Kwak Yun-geun is a professor at the department of mechanical engineering of KAIST, and one of the top experts of the country in the field of robot science.

“As I told him I want to make this robot, he immediately arranged a study visit for me to a robot company. He is my most reliable supporter.”

Asked about her philosophy on robots, she answered in a resolute tone. “It’s only humans that can truly understand humans and be true friends with humans. No matter how well robots understand us, they can’t replace us.”