The term "uncanny valley," which refers to the revulsion that humans feel when they see a humanoid robot, has lately been a topic of heated discussion among design engineers, who are increasingly building robots that walk and talk.
More than ever, engineers need to consider the effects on humans as their machines begin to creep into our territory. "If you're going to make your robot human-like, then you've got to make it really, really human," said Tim Root, founder and chief technology officer of VGo Communications Inc., a robot manufacturer, in a recent interview with Design News. "If you miss that, your form factor will be rejected."
Looking at the following slides, it's easy to see how robots are evolving, not only in their ability to do human tasks, but in their appearance. Whether or not they're starting to give us the creeps is another matter, one that varies from person to person.
Click on the image below to start viewing the 16-image slideshow. When you're done, tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Heather Knight, a roboticist and founder of Marilyn Monrobots, is trying to bridge the uncanny valley by adding humor to the robotic repertoire. Her robot, Data, can do imitations of Darth Vader, R2D2, and Buzz Lightyear. (Photo courtesy of Freescale Semiconductor.)
I'm OK with robots among us, even highly intelligent ones, as long as they obey Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics. But maybe I'm too easily impressed. Have you ever seen the dancing Elmo toy? He is fairly sophisticated and even picks himself up to stand on his two feet if purposefully knocked over (and yes, he lets you know that he does not like that, maybe that is a little creepy!). see link...Elmo gets up at 48 second mark.
If the intent is to replace a human then I think that they robot should sort of look human, but probably with different proportions. I have seen the "robot dog" running with the pack on it's back, and it was a bit strange looking because it had no head. I like industrial robots because they are tools that look like tools, and there is no confusion there. Their appearance is also a constant reminder of how dangerous they can be when they move quickly.
The humanoid looking robots, even the "cute" ones, and the pretty ones, all seem a bit creepy because I understand that their behavior is programmed by programmers, and I am aware that the thought processes of most programmers are somewhat abnormal, at best.
But if you want something really creepy, spend a day alone working in an area with a bunch of crash dummys sitting against a wall just outside of where you are focused. They move around when they think you aren't looking, which is really creepy, since they don't have faces.
The robot in the picture appears to be a NAO from http://www.aldebaran-robotics.com/. I recently saw a live demo at the FedEx Institute of Technology on the University of Memphis. It is very cute, fully programmable, fairly nimble, has a decent complement of front facing sensors. Marketed as a research platform, it is too small to do much useful real world work, but makes a great $9000 - $16000 toy for testing human reaction to humanoid shaped robots. Everyone I was with wanted one. It recognized its operators face and voice providing a personalized menu of voice activated options in concert with an invisible touch sensor on its head. Part of the demo was dancing to "Thriller". The 'ears' are decent speakers. It remained standing maintaining its balance despite mild attempts to push it over. When it was pushed over, it gracefully stood itself back up the way a human would in about 15 seconds using its hands to assist. It had pressure sensors in its rigid feet that helped it shuffle around obstacles it detected via chest sonar. 'Eyes' are IR receivers with RGB led 'mascara'. I was told it was smart enough not to walk off a ledge, but in this case the floor and table were both white so it could not distinguish between them. It seemed to take over a minute to boot up. The company seems eager to support its users in developing new routines for NAO. Apparently it plays soccer.
Looking at the slideshow, one could posit that there's a cultural influence on the type of robot a nation tends to build. Americans are looking downward (Roomba) or very industrially focused. The Japanese robots have an altogether different focus, one which is both very future directed (sci-fi influence) but also unusual to say the least. As the HMI on robots evolves, it'll be interesting to see how and to what extent the aesthetic influences the functionality and vice versa.
Yes, the U.S. robots and definitely more industrial. The Japanese robots, on the other hand, are definitely humanoid and often tend to be female. For what it's worth, I've yet to see anyone build a robot that has decidely male characteristics.
Interesting point, Bob. Yet I believe excellence in function will ultimately be the test of acceptance in automated systems. A good example is Amazon or ATMs. They provide excellence in function and they are not humanoid. We now prefer them to human interaction in part because they are not human. They perform at a level of efficiency that is beyond a human bookseller or bank clerk.
With all the possible threats coming this way to human beings, I say why not take a crash advanced robots and android development series of programs?
There is too much corruption within government in order to let them take control of everything.
I feel why not make factory starts to where companion robots and androids could be constructed on a scale similar to a large auto manufacture, so that almost anyone could afford to rent or own a robot or android.
The technology is there, it’s just that mankind’s social situation is based to where our collective decisions shy us away from innovations such as robot companions.
A robot or android companion is nothing more than an advance o.s platform that is a little more interactive, on a mobile base. There is chance here' but I would tend to say allow it.
Computer Technician with a good bit of experience in back of him
I find the fascination with humanoid robots odd. We don't need automation that resembles the human body. ATMs are one of the most successful human-replacement gizmos. Yet it doesn't resemble the human body in the least. The robotic welder doesn't look human.
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