Robots that walk have come a long way from simple barebones walking machines or pairs of legs without an upper body and head. These were built to try out mechanical methods for reproducing the uniquely human bipedal gait. Much of that earlier theoretical research is now done, and research these days usually focuses on making more humanoid robots. But they are not all created equal.
Although some humanoid robots are built as standalone proofs-of-concept, many are being designed to interact with people. Some of these are very sophisticated and do a lot more than walk. They climb stairs and ladders, drive vehicles, and even play soccer, but they don't look particularly friendly. A few make me think of the rather intimidating Gort in the classic 50s sci-fi movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still.
For example, some of the humanoid rescue robots entered in the DARPA Robotics Challenge are not creatures I would want to meet after a disaster. Others are designed to be smaller and cuter for interacting with children and the elderly. These tend to have more fluid, natural movements. Some can anticipate human behavior and even speak.
Click on the photo of the DARwIn-OP bots below to start the slideshow.
The small size of DARwIn-OP (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence - Open Platform) is aimed at making this open-source robot more affordable to implement. At the same time, it's equipped with sophisticated sensors, a high payload capacity, dynamic motion ability, and advanced computational power, to make it attractive to educators and researchers as a development platform. Its design is based on the larger DARwIn series humanoid robots also developed by Virginia Tech. Several different software implementations are possible, including C++, Python, LabVIEW, and MATLAB. The robot is 455-mm-tall, weighs 2.8 kg, and is equipped with a USB webcam and Dynamixel motors from Robotis. (Source: Virginia Tech)
You know, it´s funny, Cabe, I have done some coverage of this and it almost seems like people are more comfortable with robots that look like robots, if you know what I mean--versus robots that are more human. Although people seem to have more empathy for robots that look more human, which is maybe what can freak them out a bit. But I think it´s the actual human appearance of some robots that make people uncomfortable with them, throwing off their entire perspective of what a robot should be (even though of course we have seen human-like robots in scifi for a long time).
etmax, I understand your POV. But assuming that *life* must happen when the right naturally occurring chemicals and environment exist is a very, very long way from assuming that *sentience* must happen when artificial constructs are made by humans. I'm not sure which model you mean would be flawed if that proved not to work. I think the model that assumes *sentience (= self-awareness)* must happen when artificial constructs are made by humans is definitely flawed and shows a lack of understanding of the complexities of nature and evolution. It's also flawed from a philosophical standpoint (meaning primarily the theory of emergence).
It's been observed that people in Asia, especially Japan, are much more accepting of robots in general, and don't seem to get as freaked out by human-looking/speaking robots. We cover this to some extent in Is It a Human, a Robot, or an Android? http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=270169 So perhaps the uncanny valley is to some extent culturally determined.
etmax, you're welcome and glad you enjoyed the slideshow. Reducing actuators does reduce processing load, but it can also make movements more awkward and less fluid. So it depends on the goal of the design.
Yes, etmax, I completely understand where you´re coming from and you´re right, there are cultural limitations to these sorts of technologies that need to be overcome in the United States so we can utilize these innovations to the fullest. And you´re right, Japan and the U.S. (in terms of technologically advanced countries) are probably on polar opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of this. But I think things are changing in the U.S., albeit slowly.
Hi Ann, I tend to agree with you in part. While computers of the conventional ilk dominate there is little or no chance that sentience will arise, but if one considers the work being done in biological inspired computiing the future is not quite so clear. If we design computers modelled on a biological brain to the nth degree, I think sentience almost must happen or the model is flawed. This is the same line of thinking that drives scientists to spend inordinate amounts of money into SETI research because life MUST happen if the the ingredients are all there. Mind you I am talking about computers that can not yet be built.
Hi Elizabeth, please don't get me wrong, with spiralling health care costs and an aging population what the Japanese are doing is possibly the only solution, and I actually believe that doing unpopular things for essential outcomes is a noble pursuit of government, (slippery slope of course, Saddam Hussein probably made similar claims) I was merely highlighting the obstacles that need to be overcome. I also meant no disrespect to the Japanese, I have a great deal of admiration for them. I was merely making observation on some of the cultural issues at stake. I chose the US and Japan as probably the 2 greatest contrasts on this subject. Of course I'm sure there are quite a few people in the US that would find it cool, I can't help but feel that a majority will balk at the idea if the robots get too "real". Maybe I'm wrong, but I listen to a lot of people's opinions do develop that understanding.
Well maybe the Japanese are on to something, and it would be a shame if our culture in the United States prevents us from innovating. While there is still an uncanny valley element to consider, robots can be very helpful in these type of care situations, so their use can be beneficial. Perhaps steps should be taken to get people accustomed to them to avoid these type of potential lawsuits you mention, etmax, so the U.S. can be on the same par with robotic innovation as our friends in Japan.
Highly regarded engineer and physicist Ransom Stephens speaks with Design News about his extensive science and engineering background, the serious yet funny study of neuroscience, and how one primes their brain for innovation.
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