Rachel and her Monkey Business
May 21st, 2006

This MIT news office article says “Rachel Kern’s office in the MIT Media Lab is quiet,a bit too quiet,when visitors drop by to hear about Monkey Business,her master’s thesis and the latest research phase in the lab’s Speech Interface Group.Then Kern sits down and begins to talk,and soon two plush monkeys hanging by their tails from little stands also begin to talk.A lot.The chatter starts with a naturalistic “Squee!” from the monkey on Kern’s desk,followed at once by a slightly different,equally natural little shriek from the monkey on a second desk. Little monkey faces go up and down.Invisible sensors sense.Tiny motors whir.Fuzzy arms reach out.Their animatronic cuteness knows no bounds.”They’re reacting to each other,”Kern explains,as the electronic duet escalates,then ebbs.”My goal is to facilitate informal communication among distributed group members,people who work together,but in different locations.The monkeys alert people in one office of activity or gathering in another place,” she said.The monkeys in Kern’s office, known as Bruce and George,are not only responsive to Kern and to each other,but also to monkeys in other offices,notably that of principal research scientist Chris Schmandt,Kern’s thesis advisor,and the offices of other members of the Speech Interface Group.Motion and proximity sensors and individualized “speech” programming identify the office where the fun is under way”.

Media Lab researcher gets into Monkey Business

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