Robots are man’s new best friend. From industrial production lines to assisting doctors during surgery, these futuristic automatons have come a long way, thanks to advancements in science and technology. They have also found a place in the military, aiding soldiers in tasks like reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition as well as load-bearing. In recent years, need for affable robots that can interact with humans, and also provide companionship to patients undergoing rehabilitation or the elderly, has lead to the development of a family of humanoid robots that move, talk and behave just like us.
These realistic machines bear a startling, and somewhat scary, resemblance with actual human beings. Below are ten of the most advanced robots that are so utterly life-like it will leave you mind completely boggled:
Designed by Hiroshi Ishiguro, in collaboration with the team at Tokyo-based A-Lab, Asuna is an android first unveiled at the 2015 Wonder Festival [Winter] in Chiba, Japan. Up close, she looks like an adorable 15-year-old girl, about 155 cm in height and weighing approximately 43 kg. In fact, this hyper-real robot is so incredibly human-like that even the reporter covering the convention got confused, mistaking it for one of the idols from the AKB48 band.
Asuna boasts flawless skin as well as intricate facial features including ears that are “soft and squishy” like real human ears. At present, however, her movements are limited to blinking, yawning and a few other endearing expressions, controlled entirely by a remote human operator. Speaking about this spectacular robot, CEO of A-Lab Takeshi Mita said:
We already have 20 year’s experience making androids in the lab. So in 10 years we will marry AI and life like geminoids in perfection. We had been focusing on perfecting her skin, facial expressions, and so on, so for now Asuna is really just a head. Now we are working on her arms and torso to give very natural, fluid body language.
The brainchild of Hanson Robotics founder Dr. David Hanson, Han is the robotic best friend you’ve always wanted. Showcased for the first time at the 2015 Global Sources Electronics Fair in Hong Kong, this amazingly-expressive automaton can hold conversations, make jokes, read people’s facial expressions, flirt and even pretend to be drunk. According to the developers, Han relies on highly-specialized cameras and voice recognition technology to discern human presence and also, determine their age and gender. He is capable of interpreting facial expressions, and can easily tell when you are happy or sad.
With the help of a special mobile app, we can even engage in conversations with this humanoid robot. He is programmed to hold eye contact while responding to people’s questions in faultless British accent. Although possessing only a head covered in soft, flesh-colored rubber (called “Frubber”) and a transparent chest that houses all the circuits and wires, Han boasts an intelligent design, featuring as many as 40 motors that in turn help contort his facial muscles. His go-to expressions include winking, smiling, frowning and wincing. The team at Hanson Robotics writes:
Underneath his bald head, masculine features and somewhat sardonic smile is a humanoid robot whose primary focus is to serve. Han is at his happiest when helping others find contentment. He seems to instinctively know his greatest contribution to humankind may be in simply showing us how we can all live together in peace.
Some would say Hiroshi Ishiguro, the man behind Geminoid, is a visionary. For the last several decades, this Japan-based innovator and professor at Osaka University has been a trailblazer in the field of robotics. In January of 2016, his masterpiece, a life-like robot with charming personality and delightful quirks, was unveiled to the world. Touted as the most beautiful, intelligent and advanced automaton ever built, Erica is said to be 23-year-old theatre and animated film enthusiast, whose travel wish list includes Southeast Asia. Ishiguro added:
The principle of beauty is captured in the average face, so I used images of 30 beautiful women, mixed up their features and used the average for each to design the nose, eyes, and so on. That means she should appeal to everyone.
Jointly developed by researchers from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International as well as Kyoto and Osaka universities, this futuristic android comes equipped with the latest speech technologies that in turn enable her to understand and respond to people’s questions. She cannot, however, walk on her own as of yet. During Erica’s debut press conference, we also got a glimpse of her humorous side when she answered a reporter’s intrusive question about her age with “that’s a slightly rude question … I’d rather not say”.
Each of her utterances is accompanied by facial expressions that are incredibly realistic. In the future, Erica could be used as a customer service or even a household robot.
One of the earliest androids created by the scientists at Osaka University, Actroid made her first appearance at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, way back in 2003. The robot, which looks like a young Japanese woman, is regarded as a pioneering example of a fembot or gynoid. As pointed out by the developers, its skin is fashioned out of silicone, which is what lends it its remarkable life-like appearance. Coming to its capabilities, Actroid can blink, shift in its seat, move its eyes and head, and even replicate the motions associated with breathing.
All of these movements are controlled by a specially-designed pneumatic system, featuring servomotors that are powered by compressed air. Artificial intelligence software enables it to react to, and avoid, sudden motions like a slap. The A.I. ensures that the robot reacts differently to different kinds of touches, such as a gentle caress and a nudge. The Actroid is also engineered to mimic human movements and expressions in real time, and was originally developed to serve as a receptionist.
Some of the later versions of the humanoid robot (Repliee R1) can speak in different voices, and has a language repository of more than 40,000 phrases from four languages. It can also interpret words and sentences, with the help of speech recognition software. Advanced vision sensors allow them to look into the eyes of the listener while holding a conversation with him/her. The latest model in the series is a brother-and-sister duo known as Actroid-F.
5) Kodomoroid and Otonaroid
As part of his research on human-robot interaction, Ishiguro teamed up with other researchers at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory to design a pair of news casting androids. Unveiled during a 2014 exhibition at Tokyo-based National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (or Miraikan), Kodomoroid and Otonaroid are two fembots have many of the same capabilities as the Actroid. Speaking about his creations, Ishiguro said:
We will have more and more robots in our lives in the future. Technical advances mean robots look and act more human, and that makes us think about our worth… This will give us important feedback as we explore the question of what is human. We want robots to become increasingly clever.
Kodomoroid, the younger of the two, is named after the Japanese word for ‘child’ or “kodomo”. Silicone skin and specially-designed artificial muscles lend these robots an incredibly realistic appearance. During the press conference, she assumed the role of a broadcaster, delivering news of a recent FBI raid as well as an earthquake. Having a charming sense of humor, she also teased her creator about “starting to look like a robot” himself.
The other robot Otonaroid (from the term “otona” meaning ‘adult’) looks like a slightly older woman of Japanese descent. Unlike Kodomoroid, she has a diffident personality and “stage fright” that caused her to malfunction during the unveiling, to which she quipped “I’m a little nervos”. At present, there are quite a few problems with the design that are obvious in the stiff and sometimes unnatural facial expressions of the androids. Furthermore, the out-of-sync lip movements need to be fine-tuned to create the appearance of spontaneous speech.
According to the developers, these humanoid automatons will reside at Miraikan, where they will have to interact with people as the museum’s new science presenters.