Why The Robot Takeover Won't Be Anytime Soon
Ever since we were ancient and everyone was Greek, humans have been throwing around the idea that life would be easier if we could build things that would help us (or, at the very least, occupy our time). Around 150 BCE, Heron of Alexandria was said to have pioneered some of the first simple machines, harnessing wind and steam to power windmills, instruments and even a coin-powered holy water dispenser.
Fast forward a few years to Da Vinci’s Metal Knight (probably the first robot) and a few more to pre-WWII, when then-electrics-now-nuclear-power-giant-Westinghouse developed and put to work the world’s first operational robots. Rastus and Elektro—the former being incredibly racist and the second, terrifying—toured the country, bringing smiles and the promise of a robotically-assisted tomorrow to the masses. Robots, it seemed, would revolutionize the world, making life easier and more productive on a major scale. The future of robotics was bright.
Today, a number of budding and established robotics-based thinkers including Heather Knight, Aldebaran, and Cynthia Breazeal are paving the way for what is poised to be a second industrial revolution. But for years, anthropomorphic robo-technology was stuck in the quagmire of novelty. While recently a number of important developments like motion tracking and touch-functionality have allowed for tremendous advancements in robotics, to ensure that robot history prevails once they’ve turned us all into slaves, we’ll recall a few recent “advancements” in anthropomorphic robo-technology that just, well… didn’t make the grade.
Honda’s four-foot tall, humanoid “Advanced Step In Innovative Mobility” (ASIMO) was the result of a twelve-year project to design a robot that could run or walk fluidly at speeds up to six miles per hour, as well as interact with people on a very basic level. While the baby-astronaut resembling ASIMO might look like the poster-child-bot for modern robotics, the program was “completed" (read: canceled) in 2005, and to this day only around 100 exist. Above, a video of ASIMO falling down some stairs.
TOPIO is the world’s first ping-pong playing robot, designed by Vietnamese robotics company, TOSY. While everyone knows that the only way any professional ping-pong establishment can achieve global supremacy is by assuming the zen-like coldness of a robot, I’m still coming to terms with the whole ‘sunglasses indoors’ thing. And those abs……
Fujitsu’s Talking Robotic Teddy Bear
When everyone saw A.I. Artificial Intelligence years ago and laughed and cried and asked Steven Spielberg for their money back once everything got weird, one character seemed to resound on a fundamentally human level: Teddy, Haley-Joel Osment’s stern, anthropomorphic teddy bear. Mega corporation Fujitsu seemed to pick up on Teddy’s universal qualities, including hugging and staring directly into your soul, and designed their own version with the ability to talk, respond to touch, map features and emotions, recognize you with an emotional response and even go to sleep at night! I don’t know about you, but being yelled at by what looks like Tompkins Square Fozzy Bear seems like the last thing I want my kids doing before bedtime.
Distributed Robotics Lab’s PR2 Bakebot
I don’t know about you, but I love to bake. Something about mixing adorably-imprecise ingredients and recalling faded memories as doughy smells fill the room puts me into a jubilant mindset reminiscent of Julia Child or Paula Deen. My only problem with baking, however, is that the whole experience just doesn’t last long enough. But now, thanks to MIT’s Distributed Robotics Lab, if you’ve got $400,000 and nine hours to kill on a batch of snickerdoodles, you know exactly who to call.
Finally, just in case the future of teachers wasn’t completely doomed already, Tokyo’s University of Science may have put the final nail in that coffin. SAYA is the world’s first robot with the ability to both teach a classroom full of students and work as a sharp-dressed receptionist. The key behind SAYA’s workplace functionality is a series of eighteen motion plates tucked beneath the surface of her face, which give her a series of emotions that run the gamut from “sheer bliss” to “Honey, I really have to stop watching the news.” SAYA is one robo-woman, if you ask me. Like Maria de Madieros—if she was in Team America.
Below, a few more robots that almost made the list.