Researchers at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuaryin Des Moines, Iowa, have developed a tablet app that allows humans to communicate with the great apes who are living at their sanctuary.
The system operates through simple lexigrams of the kind that the scientists have been using for years at the sanctuary.
Ken Schweller, a professor of computer science at Buena Vista University, is lead programmer for the sanctuary. He describes the project in this video on the website Kickstarter;
I have already built large sliding touchscreen computer keyboards for them to use, but for communication to be truly effective the apes and the people they interact with need to have personal interconnected keyboards they can carry about with them.
Once the new prototype, gets the funding it needs, then people will be able to participate in some of the field testing.
It is also useful for humans if they can just speak the sentences and have the app translate them automatically to visual lexigram sequences.
You’re invited to help fund the project and to take part in the testing. For example, if you donate $25, you get a copy of the Bonobo Chat app. And for a donation of $500, Prof. Schweller will set up a Skype meeting between you and Kanzi, where you will both communicate using Bonobo Chat.
The bonobos will also be able to experiment with the app themselves, using it to do things like operate vending machines, open doors, watch movies and even control robots.
Prof. Schweller hopes that by controlling robots, the bonobos may be able to interact with guests and visitors outside their caged areas. They could play chase games or (one of their favorite activities) squirt guests with an onboard water gun! They could operate the robot out of site by navigating using an on board camera.
Prof. Schweller and his team have already built several robot prototypes which I will try to connect over the internet to the Robot Chat devices.
Here he describes the project:
To consider donating to the project, or to find out more about it, go to his article at Kickstarter.