Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Humanoid Robots

On Star Trek; Next Generation, Data was a humanoid robot, right? Actually, no, he’s an android, a robot built to look human. Humanoid robots resemble humans, and sometimes, only part of a human, like from the waist up. C3PO is a humanoid robot.

Building humanoid robots is a circle of learning. In order to build a walking robot, for instance, scientists had to figure out – in broad terms – how humans do it. Once a robot could do it, they studied its movements, learning more about how humans do it, and how to improve the robot’s performance. This has led to better prosthetics for humans, including powered leg prosthetics, ankle orthosis, and biological realistic prosthetics.

Theoretically, humanoid robots can be programed to perform many jobs that humans do, using the same tools humans use. Realistically, at this point, they are more specialized. Some are entertainers, others might be assistants for the sick and elderly. Wikipedia had photos of some of these specialty robots:

Topio is a Vietnamese ping pong playing robot that is 6’2” and 264 pounds.

Nao (pronounced Now) is French, and originally played soccer, but moved on to universities to assist with education and research. As of 2015, some 5,000 units of Nao were in over 50 countries. One Nao can dance, another performs stand-up comedy. The University of Tokyo bought 30, intending to train them to be lab assistants. (I don’t know how well that did or did not go.) At some point, the company was sold and Nao became Japanese. They have been used to help teach autistic children, train ISS crews, and assist the elderly. The most interesting item I found was that in a philosophical experiment, Nao robots were shown to have a basic sense of self-awareness. It is just shy of 2 feet tall, and weighs less than 10 pounds.

Enon, from Japan, was designed to be a personal assistant, and has no legs, but rolls along, so the bottom half looks something like a long skirt. It is self-guided, has limited speech identification (and production), and can carry approximately 1 pound in its arms. I found no information on its size, but the photo I saw indicated it was approximately half as tall as the man next to it.

The robots are coming! The robots are- Well, they’re already here. But they aren’t anywhere near as sophisticated as Data. If you buy one that plays soccer, but then want it to dust the living room, you’d probably have to completely reprogram it, maybe change out the arms, beef up the servo motors, and install more sensors.

Oh, never mind. It’s easier to do the dusting myself.

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