Story 3RB Japan's Robot Revolution and the Uncanny Valley

Japan's Robot Revolution and the Uncanny Valley

in robotics on (#3RB)
story imageBladerunner, the Jetsons, I, Robot: our fascination with a future world where robots serve (and sometimes kill) us continues unabated. But while most of us are just idly daydreaming what that world of automated companions would look like, or working on purpose-built robotics like Big Dog, Japan is aggressively pushing the envelope on robotics research. In fact, by most accounts, they've got us squarely in the Uncanny Valley, that awkward emotional malaise you feel when interacting with a robotic being that is almost, but not quite human.

CNN has published an interesting overview of the Robot Revolution in Japan1. And it's pretty amazing. Start with the world's first virtual pop star, or Pepper, the first humanoid robot programmed with emotion. Freaky? Then check out Miraikan [Japanese], Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, where a lot of the magic is happening.
Here, visitors can interact with ASIMO, the Honda-developed android that can run, perform tasks, and interact with people. Honda first unveiled ASIMO a decade ago, and even today it remains a futuristic vision of what robotics may one day hope to achieve on a consumer scale. ... There's Otonaroid, who looks like a young Japanese woman with silicone skin, flowing hair, and blinking eyes. ... And then there's Kodomoroid, an android newscaster that reads headlines to museum visitors, and Telenoid, a creepy-looking communication device that allows you to "speak" to friends or loved ones who are far away -- and feel as if you are sitting with them. You can hold and hug the Telenoid, and it hugs you back with its little stubs for arms.
Curious to see what the future looks like? Now's your chance.

1[Ed. note: This time, the "Robot Revolution" refers to spectacular advances in the science of designing and building robots. Next time though, it's going to mean we all hide in the hill caves before the Killer Robots overthrow and enslave us ...]
Reply 5 comments

About time... (Score: 1)

by on 2014-07-21 19:15 (#2M0)

With all the emphasis they get in sci-fi movies and tv shows, I really thought we'd have more robots by now. But as a marketable product, there just aren't that many things that they can actually do today.

Robotic maid? Not quite there yet - unless you count Roomba. Unfortunately, the Roomba products haven't progressed at all. They are the same designs from 15 years ago with hardly any computational or mechanical advances. If they followed the same Moore's Law curve as the rest of the computer industry, they should have been bipedal androids that can walk and talk by now. Instead, they are the same dumb "Drive forward until you hit something, then backup, take a slight turn, and try again" that they have always been. Although the company claims to have sold over 10 million of the devices, they have almost nothing to show for it.

Maybe Intel can shake things up a little with their Jimmy robot.

Re: About time... (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-07-21 21:19 (#2M1)

iRobot went where the money is: defense robots. They've repurposed those same bots into hazmat, security, and disaster response as well. Home user sales aren't worth enough for them to put the resources into.

There are a lot of companies doing cool things with robots, but the publicity isn't there because they aren't trying to sell to the average person.

BigDog for the win (Score: 1)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-07-21 22:22 (#2M3)

I think Bryan's right - there might be a market for the military stuff, but at the moment the casual consumer has neither need nor desire for a home robot of any type. That's what makes the BigDog robot so interesting and so scary at the same time: the military potential for that beast is pretty darned obvious. I'd hate to see one bearing down on me and gaining speed.

Re: BigDog for the win (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-07-22 00:22 (#2M4)

BigDog is old news. BD has made even more terrifying robots now.

Re: BigDog for the win (Score: 1)

by on 2014-07-22 21:14 (#2MC)

So, while the Japanese are working on freakily-realistic anamatronic toys in short, leather skirts and knee high socks, these guys are building the stuff of nightmares. That's it, I'm moving to Japan while the rest of you guys get munched on by the honking, metallic freaks.