Pepper: a humanoid robot as a personal trainer

Designed by a team of students from the Polytechnics of Turin and Milan (average age 24), the robot guides and trains the user thanks to AI.

During 2020, due to the emergency due to Covid-19 which forced the closure of gyms and sports centers. Home fitness has grown enormously and has become an activity practiced by many. Hence the idea of ​​a group of students from the High Polytechnic School of the Polytechnics of Turin and Milan who worked to transform a humanoid robot into a personal trainer able to guarantee everyone safe and controlled training even from home.

The team, made up of five engineers and designers from the two Italian Polytechnics and coordinated by Professor Barbara Caputo. Together they gave life to the “AI empowered hardware for fitness applications” project, as part of the Pioneer program of the School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (SEI) of Turin, with the collaboration of Reply. Their work was based on the evolution of Pepper, the robot designed in 2014 by the Japanese of SoftBank Robotics. It was to understand and react to human emotions, but also to communicate with those around them, analyzing gestures, expression and tone of voice.

Pepper was developed with the intention of study of human-robot interaction experts from Bristol Robotics Laboratory. A sample of people ranging from 20-60 years of age was selected to participate in sessions with the robot at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

The sessions consisted of guidance from two versions of the said robot. One gave a pre-programmed set of instructions every 30 seconds which were based on the participant’s performance. The second one gave instructions designed by a UWE Bristol fitness instructor. Pepper was to observe the instructor and replicate his behaviour.

The humanoid robot is designed to replicate human emotions like sympathy, has a sense of humour, and can change the colour of its eyes to express a change in emotions. Studies have shown a positive reception of the robot, the participants prefer engaging with an intelligent robot.

The robot represents an efficient yet economical alternative for its users.

It can be used by gyms as well as athletes for their daily requirements.

Starting from this project, the students developed an algorithm that equipped the robot with artificial intelligence. Thanks to which various useful features were implemented in the automaton to support users in training at home. Pepper was thus transformed into a real personal trainer capable of performing various tasks. Tasks such as counting the repetitions, correcting any exercise errors and even storing and showing previous performances.

Read more: The first spark of empathy was lit in robots

These features are essential for optimizing home fitness, especially considering that bodyweight exercises increase the likelihood of injuries and physical injuries. Therefore, by exploiting an advanced artificial intelligence algorithm, the robot is able to monitor the execution of the exercises. It does so through the poses taken by the human body and to trace other important characteristics to increase the quality of the training. Everything was designed with the collaboration of personal trainers and motor science specialists, to ensure an experience as similar as possible to that of a gym.

The future applications that can be realized with the use of automata of this type are many and really interesting. Some members of the team that developed Pepper have recently founded the startup Gymnasio, to exploit its potential in the world of home fitness.

In fact, to make it more accessible from an economic point of view, the robot can be integrated into a much smaller device for transportability. Thanks to a 3D camera and a display, Pepper will then be able to recognize who is training, open his profile with the history of previous workouts, create and manage personalized cards, observe and guide the athlete during the current session, add the last workout to the archive and monitor its progress.

Therefore, the evolution of the robot could represent an optimal solution not only for end users, but also for gyms.

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