Slideshow: Humanoid Robots Get Real

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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.)
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.)

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but what about Elmo?
SoCalPE   9/29/2011 5:31:34 PM
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.


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The Eyes Have It
bdcst   9/29/2011 1:04:03 PM
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.

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Robots and Such
cosmos31   9/27/2011 7:12:45 PM
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...

bob from maine
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Humanoid Robots
bob from maine   9/27/2011 2:02:59 PM
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.

George Kaye
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George Kaye   9/27/2011 1:30:29 PM
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?

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Re: Dead Eyes? Just wait!
Jason   9/27/2011 11:40:46 AM
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.  

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Re: Creepy is creepy
jmiller   9/26/2011 10:32:53 PM
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.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Dead Eyes? Just wait!
Jack Rupert, PE   9/26/2011 12:06:11 PM
Actually, I think there is some advantage to "dead eyes".  Personnally, I don't want my machines looking too human.  There is a danger that if tools become stand-ins for humans, there may be some unfortunate results.

Ivan Kirkpatrick
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Dead Eyes? Just wait!
Ivan Kirkpatrick   9/26/2011 11:45:09 AM
I understand about the dead eyed look.  But I would think it might be far more unnerving to see a robot with really live looking eyes and a sinister sneer..... Remember WestWorlod with Yul Brenner?  Creepiness aside, it is very easy for a robot to look menacing.

Watson AI and a humanoid form would require some getting used to but I think it can be done.  We have to remove the creepiness through humor, good features and smiles and a soft tone of voice.  The AI will have to go to a lot of effort to avoid anything that might be interpreted as menacing or even less than cheerfully subservient.

Maybe childlike would help?  Obviously a big hulking robot with glaring bright eyes and a heavy voice would easily scare people.  Maybe making them like little aliens with green or blue skin (helpful smurfs?) or something like that would offset the adverse effects? 

Beth Stackpole
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Creepy is creepy
Beth Stackpole   9/26/2011 11:32:25 AM
To me, the "uncanny valley" is unavoidable when you see these humanoid robots that have the dead-eyed look that makes them look like they belong in a wax museum. I don't see how those types of robots can make humans feel comfortable--they are far too creepy. On the other hand, some of the robot-looking robots seem like they have great potential, but in my opinion, more for professional or commercial applications. I still can't see having some space-age robot in the home loading the dishwasher or folding laundry. Much as I'd like to offload those tasks, it's not doing it for me.

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