The “uncanny valley” is a term you’ll hear roboticists throw out from time to time.
It gets at the idea that robots are most appealing to us when they either look nothing like a human (a disembodied robot arm, for example) or when they look exactly like a human. The “valley” is that nebulous in-between phase where a robot’s physical appearance strives for and falls short of imitating that of a flesh-and-blood person. It’s creepy and unsettling.
We rounded up some of the most physically reassuring robots there are. Some are soft and fluffy, others have big eyes that instantly register to us as cute.
Each one has been used for a variety of different purposes, but they all have one thing in common: Widespread appeal to the humans they may one day be working and “living” alongside.
Bearing more than a little resemblance to a Gremlin of movie fame, Leonardo is a robot designed to interact with people -- a social robot. Completed in 2002, Leonardo is two and a half feet tall and has a suite of sensors designed to make it optimal for communicating with people:
A camera mounted in the robot's right eye captures faces. A facial feature tracker developed by the Neven Vision corporation isolates the faces from the captures. A buffer of up to 200 views of the face is used to create a model of the person whenever they introduce themself via speech. Additionally, Leonardo can track objects and faces visually using a collection of visual feature detectors that include colour, skin tone, shape, and motion.
NEC's PaPeRo (Partner-type Personal Robot) is cute as a button, though it's only ever been a prototype for research purposes and is not for sale. It has a facial recognition system to facilitate repeated interactions with a number of different people -- an essential function for it to fulfil its straightforward 'assignment' of helping roboticists figure out what it takes to get humans and robots to live together frictionlessly.
Sony's famous robot dog, AIBO, is no replacement for man's best friend, but the digital canine analogue can play fetch and respond to being petted with the best of them.
Wikipedia tells us they were 'marketed for domestic use as 'entertainment robots.' They were also widely adopted by universities for educational purposes and research into robotics and human-robot interaction.'
Sony announced the line of robo-pets would be discontinued ('taken to the farm') in January 2006.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency will send two Kirobo robots into space on August 4. Despite looking like adorable kids' toys, they are packed with functionality ranging from vocal and facial recognition, and can even converse in Japanese.
Pepper is s robot designed to make you happy! Not only are his movements fluid (and borderline eerie), but he's equipped with voice and tone analysis to diagnose what the people he interacts with are feeling.
He goes on sale in Japan this February for $US2,000.
There's very little in-between when it comes to 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000.' You most likely either love it or have barely heard of it.
Two robo-characters from the show, Crow (pictured left) and Tom Servo (pictured right) are subjected to mediocre B-movie after B-movie in the show. Their witty remarks keep the movies worth watching.
Play-i's Bo and Yana robots are quite warm and inviting in appearance for the sake of getting toddlers interested in interacting with them and figuring out how to make them work. The goal is to introduce youngsters to computer programming.
'Computer science education in the U.S. has gotten worse over the past 20 years,' Play-i founder Vikas Gupta told Venturbeat. 'Research shows that kids as young as preschoolers can grasp programming concepts, but no products existed that young children could learn programming with.'
French company Aldebaran Robotics developed the NAO robot as a platform for education and research. The humanoid machines replaced Sony's AIBO as the soccer-bots that compete in the RoboCup Standard Platform League, a robotic soccer competition. We've recently reported on how they're being used in classrooms and even in experiments that suggest we might one day take orders from robotic bosses in the workplace.