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What happens when computer science conferences go 'Gangnam Style'

Tim Hornyak | April 27, 2015
Those who hand out the Ig Nobel prizes, awarded for the most outlandish scientific research, would do well to check up on CHI.

Over 10 days, the indefatigable bot dealt with 515 customers in total, nearly 40 customers per day, more than twice the tally of its human counterpart in the store. In all, it sold 43 sweaters. Interestingly, the lady robot struck out with real ladies but proved a hit with male shoppers, closing a much higher percentage of sales with men than with women. No wonder its next assignment, in May, is to sell men's shirts.

In another robotics study, researchers from Australia's RMIT University argued that quadcopters can actually motivate people to run. It should be noted that participants were jogging alongside drones in a kind of buddy relationship, and not running from them in fear.

But as far as motivators go, nothing can be a better than a sweet reward. From the same institution of higher learning Down Under comes a project called EdiPulse. Users wear a heart rate monitor and then hit the gym. The sensor is linked to a 3D printing machine that churns out chocolate according to exercise time. The more you work out, the more you can pig out.

In a project called ListenTree, MIT's Media Lab pumped sounds through an augmented ficus tree by the conference's registration. With a transducer-exciter attached to the tree's base, various sounds could be heard coming from its trunk and branches.

The ficus prompted passersby to lean in and put an ear to its bark, whereupon they could hear a variety of recorded ambient sounds from urban and natural environments being streamed from a nearby tablet. To no one's surprise, the tree also played "Gangnam Style" by Korean singer Psy.

Appropriately enough, Psy himself was on hand to deliver the closing keynote speech. The son of a semiconductor company chairman, he spoke about his pride in the irreverent song and its off-the-wall video that went stratospheric on YouTube with over 2 billion views.

Far from being a longtime YouTube master, however, the pudgy rapper at first saw no value in the video-sharing service. He initially dismissed his friends' suggestions to upload the song, believing no one outside South Korea would be interested. He now believes the megahit has become a bridge that can unite people around the world.

The moral of the story? Never underestimate what can happen when high technology meets the bizarre.


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