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Gizmorama - April 6, 2016

Good Morning,

Looking to improve the lines of communication between humans and robots? Context, thanks to facial expressions and gesturing, may just be the key to improve human-robot relations. No, really.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Gestures improve human-robot communication --*

BRISTOL, England - Without gestures and facial expressions, lines of communication sometimes break down, meaning context and tone get lost in translation.

New research suggests gestures can even help robots express themselves more effectively.

Avatars are robots, both tangible and virtual, that replicate the speech and movements of a human controller. They are being increasingly employed around in the world -- whether in a business meeting or virtual reality game, whether for the purposes of telecommunications, marketing, tourism or psychotherapy.

In an effort to make avatars more understandable, scientists tested the benefits of iconic gesturing -- simple hand gestures that symbolize an object or action, like opening a book or door. When such gestures are used in conjunction with speech, it is known as "multi-modal communication."

Study participants witnessed both a human actor and avatar reading a variety of phrases while performing relevant hand gestures. Afterward, participants were tested on what they had just seen and heard. Results showed viewers were able to comprehend the avatar just as well as the human.

In future studies, researchers plan to explore new and different styles of gestures. They also aim to experiment with the gestures and languages of other cultures, including Italian culture -- famous for elaborate hand gesturing.

The latest research was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

*-- Blue Origin's reusable rocket lands upright for third time --*

KENT, Wash. - It's the third time this particular Blue Origin rocket, the reusable New Shepherd rocket, has gone to the edge of space, and it's the third time it has landed safely upright upon its return.

"Flawless BE-3 restart and perfect booster landing. CC chutes deployed," Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wrote on Twitter.

Though the result was the same, Saturday's test flight was slightly different than the first two. Engineers had the descending rocket wait a bit longer to reignite this time around, leaving less time -- and just 3,600 feet -- to maneuver before touching down.

Blue Origin scientists also tested a new algorithm that triggers the separation of crew capsule and rocket. During the first two flight, the rocket and capsule were empty, but the latest trip carried two microgravity experiments.

One of the experiments aims to shed light on the behavior of dust particles in suborbital space. Results from the test could help scientists better understand how dust particles coalesce to form planets, satellites and planetary rings.

"We have been waiting for this day for a long time," Joshua Colwell, a physics profess at the University of Central Florida, said in a press release. "A lot of talented students have helped make this happen. I'm just thrilled that we're going to get data back immediately after flight and get a look at the strange behavior of dust in a microgravity space environment."

Though Bezos' operation is currently offering scientists and their experiments a ride to space, the company's larger aim is to establish a space tourism industry. Blue Origin expects to begin taking humans to space in 2018.


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