The idea of a human-like robot has been ingrained in pop culture since before computers as we know them were even a remote possibility.
Thanks to the incredible leaps forward in computing speed and artificial intelligence over the last few decades, humanoid robots are just now approaching the functionality that science-fiction fans have been reading and watching for decades.
Unfortunately, the “Uncanny Valley” effect — the discomfort that “almost right” robots cause in people — means that we’re not yet at the point where robots can successfully pass for people.
Still, researchers and private inventors have made great progress overcoming the “creepy” factor. Some of the robots are even, dare we say, borderline sexy.
Based on a famous 11th century polymath named Ibn Sina, this robot is the end result of the United Arab Emirates University's efforts to make the first Arabic-speaking android in the world.
The Ibn Sina robot has been used as a major feature of the University's interactive theatre project, where it uses hand gestures, facial recognition, and speech synthesis to interact both with live audiences and people online.
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Japan's Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology unveiled the HRP-4C in 2009.
The HRP-4C actually has the statistically average height of a female Japanese teenager. The company believes it may have applications in the entertainment or fashion business.
While the first version could move its upper body realistically and communicate thanks to speech recognition software, the latest model has been upgraded to also walk more realistically than most of its competition.
Philip K. Dick is the author responsible for some of the most popular and widely-known works of science fiction in the 20th century -- his short stories and novellas were the basis for cult films like 'Blade Runner' and 'Total Recall.'
In the mid-2000s, researchers at the FedEx Institute of Technology decided to pay tribute to the famed author by creating an android with Dick's appearance and personality. Finished in 2005, the robot was capable of tracking people who entered and left the room and holding conversation via speech recognition software.
Amazingly, the researchers were able to program in knowledge of Dick's works -- giving those who met the android a chance to simulate talking to the author about his stories over three decades after his death.
Ananova was a 'virtual anchor' created to deliver the news to web users in the late 1990s.
Her face and personality were based on Victoria Beckham and Kylie Minogue. Her voice was powered by technology from Rhetorical Systems, which was purchased by one of the companies that eventually became Nuance Communications -- best known for its partnership with Apple in which it powers Siri.
After Ananova was purchased by telecom giant Orange in 2000, she continued to provide news to web users until 2004.
Here's a video of her thanking her creators:
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TOPIO is a humanoid robot designed for one thing: playing ping pong against human competitors.
Originally designed to look like something out of a Japanese cartoon (or Toy Story's Emperor Zurg, I can't tell), TOPIO has evolved over time into a badass machine that looks more like a tall, fit male (he's 6'2' and about 250 pounds, an ideal physique if I've ever seen one) than a machine.
Created by scientists at the Tokyo University of Science, Saya is a robot designed to look like a middle-aged Japanese woman.
Originally built to serve as an advanced automated receptionist for companies, later versions of Saya were reprogrammed for use as a teacher in smaller schools in the countryside where human teachers may be in short supply.
In addition to her work in reception and teaching, models of Saya also serve as tour guides on the Tokyo University of Science campus.
While Siri may not have a humanoid form, she's more 'real' to most people than any other robot on this list. ('She' comes in a male verson too, of course.)
People are used to talking to Siri. Making jokes with her. If you here a female robotic voice in pop culture, chances are it's based on Siri or making fun of her.
While robots that can walk and carry things are impressive, Siri stands out for preparing society for a future where interacting with machines by having a conversation is common practice. (And Spike Jonze's new movie is about a man who falls for a Siri-like voice program.)
Kokoro Dreams is a Japanese company that makes a wide range of robots that range from dinosaurs and giant insects to realistic humanoids.
It introduced a female robot first and then, alongside it, a male 'brother' robot. The pair can communicate with each other and imitate the movements of the people they are watching.
The robots have been tested in Japanese hospitals to see how patients react to them.
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Kokoro's Actroid line aims to accurately simulate a 20-something Japanese female for use as a model or as an automated secretary in an office setting. As you can see on the company's site, some models do better (read: are less creepy) than others.
If you need a hyper-realistic female robot but don't have $US100,000+ at hand, the company notes that rental units are also available.
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Hatsune Miku is a virtual singer. Based on 'vocaloid' technology and voice samples from a noted Japanese voice-over actress, Hatsune is the persona Crypton Future Media created to market their voice synthesiser.
By giving 'her' a body and personality, Crypton took what could have been a mere software package and turned it into a cultural phenomenon: Hatsune has made appearances in a number of anime and video games and has even 'performed' in front of live audiences via projections.
She's also responsible for the Nyan Cat song.
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Kaito is Crypton's take on a male virtual singer.
Like Hatsune, Kaito is actually bilingual -- he can 'perform' in both Japanese and English.
Originally a commercial failure -- vocaloids are sold as software packages to music producers and artists in a similar fashion to instrument or sound packs -- the latest version of Kaito became a huge success thanks to his appealing persona and vocal capabilities that lend themselves to a wide range of uses.
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Aiko is the dream project of inventor Le Trung. Intended to be a near-perfect woman, Aiko (which translates to 'beloved one' from Japanese) has become increasingly beautiful and human-like with each iteration since the first model made in 2007.
To see the amazing transformation, which has required 'credit card loans and (Trung's) entire savings account as funding,' you can look the updates Trung posts to the Project Aiko website every few months.
Osaka University's Hiroshi Ishiguro is one of the world's foremost experts on the construction of life-like robots.
Five years after the unveiling of his revolutionary Repliee Q1 robot, Hiroshi unveiled the Geminoid F.
As you can see in this video (below), the Geminoid F is insanely close in appearance to the female model she was based on -- which is why Hiroshi thinks that robots will reach the point where people won't be able to distinguish them from humans from short interactions in a matter of years.
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