A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

Various personal interests and public info, gesture, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

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Gesture Recognition in the Operating Room

In the news recently: Future Surgeons May Use Robotic Nurse, ‘Gesture Recognition’.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2011) — Surgeons of the future might use a system that recognizes hand gestures as commands to control a robotic scrub nurse or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation.

Purdue industrial engineering graduate student Mithun Jacob uses a prototype robotic scrub nurse with graduate student Yu-Ting Li. Researchers are developing a system that recognizes hand gestures to control the robot or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation. (Credit: Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

Purdue industrial engineering graduate student Mithun Jacob uses a prototype robotic scrub nurse with graduate student Yu-Ting Li. Researchers are developing a system that recognizes hand gestures to control the robot or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation. (Credit: Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

I have noticed similar projects earlier, where surgeons in the OR were target users of gesture recognition. The basic idea behind this niche application area for gesture recognition is fairly simple: A surgeon wants to control an increasing battery of technological systems and he does not want to touch them, because that would increase the chance of infections. So, he can either gesture or talk to the machines (or let other people control them).

In this case the surgeon is supposed to control a robotic nurse with gestures (see more about the robotic nurse here). You can also view a nice video about this story here; it is a main story of the latest Communications of the ACM.

Well, I have to say I am in doubt if this is a viable niche for gesture recognition. So far, speech recognition has been used with some succes to dictate operating reports during the procedure. I don’t know if it has been used to control computers in the OR. Frankly, it sounds a bit scary and also a bit slow. Gesture and speech recognition are known for their lack of reliability and speed. Compared to pressing a button, for example, they give more errors and time delays. Anything that is mission-critical during the operation should therefore not depend on gesture or speech control would be my opinion.

However, the real question is what the alternatives for gesture or speech control are and how reliable and fast those alternatives are.  For example, if the surgeon has to tell another human what to do with the computer, for example displaying a certain image, then this can also be unreliable (because of misinterpretations) and slow.

The article mentions several challenges: “… providing computers with the ability to understand the context in which gestures are made and to discriminate between intended gestures versus unintended gestures”. That sounds like they also run into problems with fidgeting or something similar that surgeons do.

In sum, it will be interesting to see if surgeons will be using gesture recognition in the future, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Funny Gesture Ad: Devil or God

Here is a picture from the Dutch site Jijdaar.nl. It asks kids to choose between listening to the Devil or God (and invites them to come to a lecture). They are worried about children listening to music that does not carry the word of God, praise the Lord, etc. In fact, all (pop) music about love (not aimed at God), sex, having a good time, is considered diabolical.

Invitation to lecture about the presence of the devil in pop music

Pretty cocky to expect kids will make the desired choice when forced. What would you choose?

A silent, gestural sponsor message: Li-Ning

Source: Graceclick.ca

Source: Graceclick.ca

What are these guys doing? Are they flashing a gang sign? Nope. It’s a gesture that mimics the logo of their sponsor, Li-Ning.

Now, in the news today, you can follow a nicely evolving story about this practice (here, here, and here for example).

The immediate cause of the story was in incident on a podium at the Asian Games involving gymnasts Lu Bo, Teng Haibin and Hisashi Mizutori…

… After the all-around ceremony, Teng was forced to explain a hand gesture he and Lu made on the podium, where they appeared to aim a gun at Mizutori. The two Asian powers have a long history of war and animosity.

“I would like to explain that the gesture which looks like I am using a gun is not hostile,” Teng said, explaining that the gesture is meant to symbolize the Li Ning logo.

Mizutori made the same gesture back, though he said later he was not sure what it meant.

“I thought maybe I should just go along with it, so I just did it,” Mizutori said. …

Amanda Turner – IG

So, are these gymnasts doing something improper? On the one hand, taking a ‘high’ semiotic perspective, a gesture such as the one they display is a typical symbolic sign. In gesture terms, it is an emblem. As such, it is much the same as the sponsor logos on athletes’ clothing (which are accepted).

On the other hand, the method of delivery, the carrier of the symbolic meaning may be very important here. A logo on a shirt delivers a message much more quietly than a gesture made on a public podium. Humans are hard- and/or softwired to pay attention to gestures, because there may be some important communication on that channel that may concern you. That is at least how I see it. It is nearly imposssible to see a man and ignore his gestures. That is not true for a logo. I can easily ignore a logo.

In other words, I would not be surprised if we look back in about five years time, and remember how Li-Ning pioneered a sales tactic that became booming business. I am very curious if the gymnasts will be sanctioned.

M. Obama and Sembiring: The Handshake that Shook Indonesia

In the news today, another wonderful gesture story. An Indonesian politician, Tifatul Sembiring, shook hands with Michelle Obama. Sembiring is a conservative Muslim who states that he should not touch women who aren’t related to him (he avoided doing so while meeting Tsunami victims for example). Sembiring quickly tried to spin the story via Twitter and said:

I tried to prevent [being touched] with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me [so] we touched.

Here are a couple of video’s for you to see for yourself…

At first glance, it looks Sembiring doesn’t have much of a point, but I am actually inclined to grant him his point anyway, though not entirely. Here’s why: Michelle Obama can be seen to initiate the handshake, as she raises her arm and hand towards him (although it is not very clearly visible). At that point, Sembiring is already ‘forced’, in a way, to respond, or otherwise, if he left her hand hanging there without taking it, he might cause an awkward situation and possibly a loss of face for her, for him or both.

There is however a counterargument: Sembiring appears to quickly glance down just before the handshake which Michelle Obama could have seen as a cue to initiate a handshake. He is also in a posture that is open to shaking hands, probably caused by just shaking her husband’s hand, with hands available and an inviting demeanor. She may be looking for such cues if she is sensitive to the issue of shaking or not shaking hands.

It would be interesting to know if she avoided shaking hands with some other conservative Muslems in the line, or that she simply shook all their hands? The man to the left of Sembiring appears to do a better job of avoiding the handshake, by keeping his hands to his side and by looking mostly at pres. Obama’s face. As far as I can tell, Michelle Obama does not (try to) shake hands with that man.

So Sembiring’s mistake, if you want to call it that, might not be that he took her hand and shook it, but that he invited the initiating of the handshake through his behaviour (his eye gaze, and his posture). And then again, if you just shook hands with the US president, would you be strong enough to control your body language to such a degree?

Thesis of Mats Andrén

For those among you who are interested in good gesture research it may be of interest to know that Mats Andrén, from Lund University, has published (online) his thesis called Children’s Gestures from 18 to 30 months. So far, I am enjoying reading it very much. Good job, Mats, and good luck with the defense 🙂

What is Social Robotics?

Is it possible to give a good definition of social robotics? Is it a field of scientific study or is it only a catch phrase for exciting robot stuff? If it is a field of study, can we identify what belongs to it and what is outside of the field? Should we already set such boundaries or should we wait a while to give maximum growing room to the first seeds being planted by enthusiastic researchers and engineers around the world?

Instead of answering these questions here directly, I want to give you two answers of a different kind.

The first answer is that sometimes things can best be defined by identifying good examples (see explanation of Prototype Theory). If enough people can agree on good examples of social robotics then this defines the phrase ‘Social Robotics’ as a usable concept. This kind of definition plays an important role in the study of language and, given that the word ‘robot’ came from literature rather than science, it appears appropriate to try to define it in this way. Therefore, I collected the following videos that, in my opinion, each deal with one or more aspects of social robotics. They are all good examples of social robotics.

As a second answer, which may be more useful if you need more clarity fast, here is a reference to the call for participation of our recent workshop ‘Robots that Care‘, which contains a description of the field of social robotics.

Keepon Rocks

After watching a bunch of Keepon movies on the tube I gotta say: Keepon Rocks. Great idea, great ‘minimal’ design, great manufacturing, great experience. Here’s a small collection…

See, for more info on the web:
Hizook, robotics news portal
The Thinkers: Robotics developer helps studying autistic children
BotJunkie on Keepon
Q&A with Hideki Kozima – How Keepon was born and what comes next

Vertigine della lista – another beauty

I came across the folowing, wonderful list of things:

Mobility aids: Manual wheelchairs; powered wheelchairs; electric 3- and 4-wheel scooters; attendant pushed wheelchairs; walkers/rollators; canes; stretchers to move patients; turntables; floor lifts; ceiling/fixed lifts; driving equipment to assist physically challenged to drive; vehicles equipped to carry wheelchairs, etc.; and vehicles equipped with baths.

Bed-related products: Beds, mattresses, pressure sore prevention products, side tables, and care related sheets.

Bathing products: Bathtubs, bath chairs, anti-slip products, bath boards and bathing lifts.

Toilet related and diapers: Portable toilets, toilets/toilet seats, deodorizers, germicides and diapers.

Aids for Daily Living: Chairs, positioning and standup aids, tables, furniture, eating utensils, table ware, kitchens, cooking aids, washbasins, clothing, shoes, clothes changing aids and care related products.

Communication Equipment: Hearing aids; emergency alarm and warning systems; word processors and computer systems for the disabled; Braille printers; aids to assist in data entry and operating OA equipment; software for the physically challenged; letter enlargement equipment; special telephones, faxes and portable talking aids; sight related systems; and other communication equipment.

Equipment for the Home & Construction: Slopes, handrails, elevators, ramps, stair climbers and other such equipment.

Rehabilitation Equipment & Prevention Products against nursing-care: Rehabilitation equipment for walking; training materials, devices and equipment for rehabilitation. Body function training equipment, muscular strength training machines, and oral care related products.

Artificial Limbs & Orthopedic products

Truly, another enchanting list worthy of inclusion in Umberto Eco’s marvellous collection of ‘lists’ in his 2009 book called ‘Vertigine della lista’ or ‘De betovering van lijsten’ (a book I got from my professor after receiving my PhD).

But, what is it a list of? I will leave it to your imagination 🙂

Imaginary Gestures for Music Therapy?

A while ago I received an inspiring email with an interesting question, see below (and btw, I would encourage anyone reading my blog to start corresponding, which I greatly enjoy). I will try to respond here, sharing my thoughts not only with Paulo Suzuki, but with anyone interested.

Hi Jeroen,

I’m an IT professional and Music Therapist.

I’m working on a research using the Theremin as a music therapeutic tool and
I’d like that you recommend a book (basic or introdutory) regarding
“gestures” so that I can use to justify my issues.

My research is oriented to music therapy patients with little or without
movements – and so I’d like to know if you are familiar with any research on
“imaginary gestures”?

Thanks for the time.


Paulo Suzuki

PS: my 1st resource regarding “gesture” is your blog “Nice Gesture”; thanks
and congratulations.

Before I give you some answers, I would like to point to a prior post about Musical Gesturing with a Theremin and other posts in the Musical Gestures category. Looking back on that post, I would like to add that I believe that the feelings that music arouse in us are as real as we allow them to be, which is ‘very real’ for many people. Undoubtedly, this can be put to many positive uses, such as ‘Musical Therapy’. However, if you are in this business then I think it is important to remember that you are working for a large part with created conventions that need to be learned and accepted by your ‘patients’. Granted, there may be some feelings or ‘gestures’ that certain music has, in and of itself. For example, ‘beats per minute’ may be related to a slower or faster beating of the heart, and therefore to our arousal or activation. However, trusting too much in the emotional values of certain music quickly becomes speculative, highly subjective, and therefore not advisable (unless you either can rely on or have the time to build up a library of shared conventions with your audience, or patients).

So, to answer the first question, I would like to recommend two books:

  • Gesture, Visible Action as Utterance, by Adam Kendon (the basics about gesture and how humans use gestures).
  • Music and Gesture, by Gritten & King (Eds.) (I haven’t read this one myself, but from the contents it looks like it covers the topics you might be interested in).

To answer your second question, regarding research on ‘imaginary gestures’:

  • There is the work on ‘mirror neurons‘ that shows that there is a very close connection in our brains to ‘seeing a gesture’ and ‘producing a gesture’. That might be useful to you? A wild thought: if one wants patients to be able to play music with imaginary gestures perhaps it is possible to record their brains while watching a musician play a certain bit of music, identify the ‘brain activation’, and then watch for that when they ‘play in their minds’ themselves, translating their ‘imaginary gestures’ back to music. I’m taking a couple of shortcuts with this line of reasoning, but well.
  • Then there is the work on helping people who lost a hand or an arm. See for example this story: Robot arm ‘controlled with thoughts’. To some extent the nervous system may still process stimuli that pertain to certain hand actions, or gestures.
  • Another interesting bit of work was done a while ago by Sidney Fels: GloveTalk, a system that translates hand gestures to speech through an adaptive interface. Perhaps the micro gestures Fels uses, can also be translated to music instead of speech. Incidentally, his first ‘user’ was reported to be an experienced piano player…

Hope it helps 🙂

Paro: Evidence for positive effects

When will the positive effects of Paro, the robot baby harp seal that is reported to be quite useful in the nursing of the elderly, be considered ‘proven by evidence’ by the Dutch government and/or healthcare policymakers? Interesting question, I think.

I am told that, to some extent, the organizations providing health insurance (such as CZ, Achmea, OHRA, etc.) decide on the issue. Then there is also some kind of ‘Reviewing Committee’ that has a say in it. Still a bit unclear to me, though. Perhaps the ‘Free Market’ has a hand in it as well.

“So,” one might ask, “what exactly are the positive effects of Paro?” And, if one wishes to take it one step further: “How big is the benefit and what does it cost?”. Well, I listened very carefully to the presentation given by Takanori Shibata, the ‘father’ of Paro, at the ‘Robots that Care’ workshop that I co-organized. He had compiled a lot of results, roughly from the last ten years or so, both in the form of statistical data and of case description. 

During Shibata’s talk, I assembled the following list of positive effects and how they were measured:

  • With elderly (and medium aged): Less depression, measured with GDS scores.
  • With elderly: More ‘cheerfulness’, measured by self report using ‘face scales’.
  • With elderly: Decrease of ‘stress’, measured by urinary test and blood test (wit relation to immune system). And elsewhere reported: improvement of ‘mood’ and ‘vigor’.
  • In Alzheimer patients: better EEG results (more stable), possibly caused by higher activation of ‘good’ remaining portion of the brain.
  • More (desirable) communication, between elderly patients, or between patient and nurse.

Paro can also have a positive effect on nurses of the elderly:

  • Decreasing the likelihood of burn-outs, by making elderly care patients easier to work with (in various ways). (unknown measures)
  • Can enhance and/or complement the skills of the nurses, leading to improved job satisfaction. (unknown measures)

There are, however, also quite a few publications by Shibata and others about the results with Paro (here).

Some interesting links to Dutch developments:
Wat kost meer? Een kat of een Paro?
Nederlandse verzorgingstehuizen experimenteren met robotzeehond Paro, geliefd onder demente ouderen
Buddy van oma is een robot

And here is a video that is a fairly good compilation of how Paro achieves it’s positive effects:

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