The idea to make robots possibly closer to humans appeared earlier than the invention of robots themselves. In the play by Karel Čapek, R.U.R. (the term also came up with Capek), robots were completely similar to humans. But do we really need humanoid robots? Where are the androids used and why are they so stingy with emotions? We will discuss all the benefits and problems of anthropomorphic mechanism in Humanoid Robots in 2019.
Specialized robots in assembling cars, carrying cargo and executing other programs cope with their tasks much better than people, but apart from fulfilling their narrow remit, such robots are not suitable for anything else. If we need the most versatile robot, it should feel comfortable in the human environment and infrastructure, which means that it needs to be human-like after all. The robot vacuum cleaner cannot get the cup off the shelf, and the robot welder will not tell how to go to the library.
Humanoid Robots in History
In 1927, seven years after writing the play R.U.R., the American Westinghouse Electric Company introduced Mr. Herbert Televox – a robot that received signals through a telephone that activated the program inherent in it. According to the creator, the TV box could turn on the stove or check whether the light in the house was working. In some ways, Televok was not just a robot, but a component of a “smart” home. The anthropomorphism in Televox was just a useless decoration.
The Elektro robot, which appeared 10 years later in the USA, could perform 26 different actions, including walking. It was controlled by voice. It didn’t react to words, but to the number of words — two separate words heard included movement, three meant stopping, any four words that were said returned Elektro to its initial position. A separate motor in the mouth helped the robot to inflate balloons and … smoke. Since then, humanoid robots mostly retain entertainment orientation.
Only in 1970, the first humanoid robot became capable of carrying cargo. WABOT-1, created by Waseda University, was introduced in Japan. It knew how to communicate in Japanese, could perform distance calculation, select the direction of movement and carry objects in its hands.
Most advanced humanoid robot and what’s wrong with them
90 years have passed since the advent of Mr. Televox. During this time, technology made a tremendous breakthrough, and human-like robots remain an entertainment or information device with a very limited scope.
One of the most famous robots in recent years has been Sophia from Hanson Robotics. She can express up to 60 emotions, recognize speech and generate answers based on her own experience and data from the Internet. Sophia is only a demonstration development that benefits as a promotional project. Experts admit that while the robot is a regular chatbot with very specific facial expressions, Sophia does not know anything really useful.
Another robot consultant, Aiko Chihiro, created by Toshiba, has a more traditional appearance and a smaller, but more realistic set of facial expressions. Aiko was introduced in 2014 and immediately created a sensation, and six months later, she even worked as a consultant in a shopping center in Tokyo for a couple of days. With the help of 43 motor mechanisms, Chihiro is able to move her eyes, head, and hands. The robot recognizes voices and responds with replicas in well-set Japanese or English.
There are many other humanoid robots, less well-known, but not less interesting: Actroid-SIT looks into the eyes during a conversation and can touch the other person, and Harmony became the first s*x robot capable of supporting a conversation on savory topics. But at the current level of technology development, all of them are expensive stationary interlocutors, and nothing more. Scientists, on the other hand, dream about rescue robots raking debris, exploratory robots working with tools in extreme conditions, helper robots repeating people’s manual labor.
A universal anthropomorphic robot is the very complex set of musculoskeletal systems, mechanical limbs, voice recognition systems, space and neural networks capable of processing and understanding the environment and voice commands. Separately, some progress has been made in these areas.
So, modern robots can keep up the conversation at the level of voice assistants like Siri, but still, the conversation between the machine and the person is far from the dialogue of two people.
Straight walking on two legs also made a big breakthrough in the last thirty years – it is worthwhile to compare at least the slow movements of the Honda E0 and the Atlas jog. However, to ensure such mobility, Atlas received equipment for 80 kg and a height of about 180 cm. What does this, perhaps, the most impressive robot of our time?
For now, just carry five-kilo boxes. By the way, take a look at the robot’s head – a lidar rotates there, scanning the surrounding space and making up a three-dimensional map of the world around. This allows the robot to respond as accurately as possible to obstacles, namely to bypass or step over them.
The biggest difficulty is the brain of the robot. Machines can adequately respond to people and furniture, avoid danger, talk and more or less understand what they want from them. But the level of independence of modern humanoid robots is somewhere at the level of a two-year-old child – only to pick up a cube or open the door, but the robot is not capable of doing more complex things.
If you combine the most advanced components to create an anthropomorphic robot, then the result will not be very good, not very smart and not very useful creation with a cosmic price. For example, each Honda Asimo – a small robot that can walk the stairs and kick the ball – costs a million dollars, and you can take it on lease for $150,000 a month. The conclusion, unfortunately, is very prosaic: modern human-like robots remain specialized machines.
Sinister valley robots
Elements of human appearance, that is, skin, eyes, hair, are not necessary for the robot, they are nothing more than decoration to enhance the attractiveness of the mechanism. Most anthropomorphic robots are a bare “skeleton” (see the cases of the Russian Fedor, Atlas from Boston Dynamics, Honda Asimo). The skinless frame design simplifies access to components, eases development by eliminating the facial mimicry, and eliminates the robot from the potential problem of an ominous valley.
This term refers to the effect in which objects that look and act like humans cause disgust in observers – as they are not sufficiently similar to them. The name of the effect comes from the failure on the graph presented in the study of the Japanese scientist Masahiro Mori. In 1978, he conducted a survey, showing that at a certain point the similarity of a robot to a person no longer attracts, but pushes away. There is still no generally accepted explanation for this psychological mechanism. It is assumed that a person unknowingly notices the external deviations of other people from some usual normality.
At a certain level of realism of the object, the human brain thinks that there is a living person in front of it. But then we see unnatural hand movements, “dead” facial expressions and inhuman voice, which causes cognitive dissonance, expressed in fright and hostility. The robot creates the illusion of man, and we subconsciously cease to understand what is in front of us, and we feel this is a threat.
Functionally, any android loses to any specialized robot and person – despite the considerable history of robotics, the dream of a universal assistant still remains unreal.
And finally, some humor – Will Smith’s meeting with the robot Sophia. With robots, the Hitch method works not that well.