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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even if you're goal isn't to make a robot look human, its eyes are still the most important detail. There is something buried in our earliest DNA that says another being is in there if it has eyes that can lock to yours! We sense it in our pets no matter how small their brains may be.
Roboticist, is there really such a word...? Heathers creations are remarkably toy oriented...I don't feel inspired, or threatened by their existence..more amused...Now, when you start talking "Cyborg ", that's when it gets creepy...
Robots should be purpose built, so a robot designed to deal exclusively with humans should at least be the right height with audio input/output at the level of the human head. I think ultimately, robots will be humanoid but there will be a learning curve for humanity to accept this form. Do we enjoy more ordering food at a drive-thru when they incorporate a caricature of a clown head rather than a dead speaker? I think we do.
Similar to the example in the Twilight Zone post, the connection Tom Hank's character makes with the volleyball "Wilson" in Castaway, while fictional, is not far fetched and shows how we humanize inanimate objects. Animate objects are next I guess.
We connect with machines, like cars, motorcycles, hi fi's (my area of expertise), firetrucks, engines etc. We don't name machines that we care for and interact with "Old Betsy" for nothing. I notice that this seems to be a connection characterized mostly by men and machines, not women and machines. Yes, I know there are the exceptions. (I am not a sexist! No - really!)
I don't know if I want an overly familiar machine as an assistant. I think I want a robot to do tasks I want to outsource. If it has an attitude it should be one of subservience, not like "Bender" the bending robot in Futurama, who's attitude could lead me to commit a robotocide. I've heard him say, "Kill all humans" in his sleep. That worries me.
Something I noticed about the photo is that the humanoid robot wearing the necklace and blond hair seems amazingly real. It doesn't seem to have that "dead eye" problem. Who makes that one? Are they customizable?
The only issue with making robots, or any artifically intelligent machine, is that there will come a time when someone somewhere will make the wrong programming steps and then we will truly have something along the lines of Blade Runner, Cherry2000, Terminator, The Matrix, or AI. These stylized doomsday movies have even made it to the child level in G-Force.
All of that aside, I personally feel that too human like is a bad thing. The dead eye look for me would be a little unnerving, but that could be offset by allowing some LED color to glow around the eyes or something similar to that.
I have to say it would be better to see a robot that's designed for more functionality and less life like. Dead eyes/real eyes isn't as important to me as the ability to do the dishes, or clean off the table.
I hope they continue to design for greater and greater functionality and less and less life like focus. It's kind of like all the junk they add to my cell phone. Just get me a phone that doesn't drop calls. I don't care about all those other functions.
In an age of globalization and rapid changes through scientific progress, two of our societies' (and economies') main concerns are to satisfy the needs and wishes of the individual and to save precious resources. Cloud computing caters to both of these.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.