Spark

BYOB: Build your own bot!

Abhishek Singh created Peeqo, a robot and personal assistant that communicates entirely in GIFs.
Peeqo the adorable robot. (Abishek Singh, Tisch School for the Arts, NYU)

From Amazon Echo to Apple's Siri, we're moving into a world with friendly, helpful assistants around us all the time. Practical household robots like the Roomba are nothing new.

So why not make your own to keep you company?

Peeqo is an adorable robot that can play music for you, turn off the lights, keep you entertained...oh, and it answers you exclusively -- and often cheekily -- in GIFs.

Abhishek Singh created Peeqo for a thesis project.

"I know there are a lot of people like me who spend really large amounts of time in front of the computer," Abhishek explains  "And sometimes they need a little entertainment, and also a little help with work to get through the day."

Abhishek says he's long been fascinated by robots. But why a robot that communicates in little animated film loops?

"My three areas of interest are animated GIFs, animated movies, and building things by hand," he explains. "They are seemingly disparate fields, but they do say that creativity exists at the intersection of seemingly disparate fields!"

Beyond the entertainment factor, Abhishek is exploring aspects of human-robot interaction.

The whole debate in social robotics concerns how to design robots to be more relatable for humans, and also how they can communicate emotions.

"And then you see these extremely complex [ways] in which they're trying to recreate human facial expressions," he says.

"GIFs...are capable in an extremely short, little animated loop of being able to communicate anything from expression, to emotion, to information."

Peeqo's design is open source, so other people can get the instructions for how to make one for free.

Now, actually making Peeqo is a technically demanding task, but if you're interested, the code is here, and the hardware details are here. Abhishek stresses that the code is still a work in progress.

Oh, and on the perennial tech question of how GIF is pronounced?

Abhishek says "He calls it 'gif' I call it 'jif'. I'll see if I can reprogram him to correct him."

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