Sporting a trendy brown bob, a humanoid robot named Erica chats to a man in front of stunned audience members in Madrid.
She and others like her are a prime focus of robotic research, as their uncanny human form could be key to integrating such machines into our lives, said researchers gathered this week at the annual International Conference on Intelligent Robots.
“You mentioned project management. Can you please tell me more?” Erica, who is playing the role of an employer, asked the man.
She might not understand the conversation, but she has been trained to detect key words and respond to them.
A source of controversy due in part to fears for human employment, the presence of robots in our daily lives is nevertheless inevitable, engineers at the conference said.
The trick to making them more palatable is to make them look and act more human so that we accept them into our lives more easily, they added.
In aging societies, “robots will coexist with humans sooner or later,” said Hiroko Kamide, a Japanese psychologist who specializes in relations between humans and robots.
Welcoming robots into households or workplaces involves developing “multipurpose machines that are capable of interacting” with humans without being dangerous, said Philippe Soueres, head of the robotics department at a laboratory belonging to France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
As such, robots must move around “in a supple way,” despite their rigid mechanics and stop what they are doing in case of any unforeseen event, he added.
That is why people are choosing “modular systems shaped like human bodies,” which are meant to easily fit into real-world environments built for humans.
For instance, Atlas, a humanoid robot made by Boston Dynamics, can run on different types of surfaces.
In Madrid, Marc Raibert, founder of the US firm, played a video showing Atlas doing a backflip.
In a sign of fears over the potential uses for these humanoids, Amnesty International has accused Atlas, financed by the US’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, of being a “killer robot” made for warfare.
Another example of humanoids presented in Madrid was Talos, a robot made by Spanish company Pal Robotics SL shown testing his stability on a balance board.
While it might not be the only form used for those coming into contact with humans, “it’s easier for people to accept the robots when they have human-like faces, because people can expect how the robots will move, will react,” Kamide said.
That is comforting, but it also has its limits.
Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori’s “uncanny valley” theory, which he developed in the 1970s, states that we react positively to robots if they have physical features familiar to us, but they disturb us if they start looking too much like us.
“You can’t ever make a perfect human face” and this imperfection provokes a feeling of “rejection” among humans, said Miguel Salichs, a professor at the robotics lab of Madrid’s Carlos III University.
As such, he chose to fashion his robot Mini Maggie into a small cartoon animal.
In Japan, robots like Erica are already used as receptionists.
However, for one of their makers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University, humanoids are above all “a very important tool to understand humans.”
Researchers have to think hard about the human form and how humans interact to develop robots that look like them.
“We understand the humans by using robots, the importance for example of eye-gazing,” said Ishiguro, who has also made robots that look like dead celebrities, or “moving statues.”
He said that humanoids are best to improve interactions between robots and humans.
“The human brain that we have has many functions to recognize humans. The natural interface for humans is humans,” Ishiguro said.
For Jurgen Schmidhuber, president of artificial intelligence start-up Nnaisense SA, robots — be they humanoid or not — will be part of the future.
They will not just imitate humans, but will solve problems by experimenting themselves thanks to artificial intelligence without “a human teacher,” he said.
Sitting on her chair, Erica nodded her head.
Gogoro Inc (睿能創意) yesterday launched its first electric bicycle, the Gogoro Eeyo 1, in Taiwan, after unveiling the bike in New York in late May and in France on Tuesday. The company said it would also introduce the series in other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. The “Eeyo project” is the fourth of Gogoro’s eight projects that concentrate on smart transportation, which includes Gogoro’s electric scooter, battery swap system and electric scooter sharing service, company founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke (陸學森) told a media briefing in Taipei. “There are various types of city commuters. We will not
EXPERIMENTAL DRUG: While news about a COVID-19 vaccine is more eye-catching, developing a treatment would be more viable, the Senhwa boss said Senhwa Biosciences Inc (生華科) aims to raise NT$1.5 billion (US$50.57 million) by issuing 15 million new common shares in the third quarter of this year to fund the research of new drugs, including the experimental drug Silmitasertib for the treatment of COVID-19, the company said on Monday. That would be the firm’s largest fundraising effort after it raised more than NT$1.4 billion from an initial public offering on the Taipei Exchange (TPEX) in April 2017, chief financial officer Sarah Chang (張小萍) told the Taipei Times by telephone. The price of the new shares would depend on the firm’s average share price
NOT A PANACEA: Offering 5G services would not solve the problem of declining telecom incomes, chairman Sheih Chi-mau said, expecting a flat 5G telecom revenue Chunghwa Telecom Co (中華電信) yesterday became the nation’s first telecom to debut its 5G services, offering tiered tariffs that include a threshold of NT$599 and flat rates, as it aims to switch half of its subscribers to the 5G network within three years. Subscribers would have unlimited data transmission for monthly fees starting at NT$1,399 — the same flat rate as when the company launched its 4G service in 2014 — and they can subscribe to the highest-rate plan for NT$2,699 per month for faster data transmission speeds and larger bandwidth, the company said. Data transmission speeds would be within the range
ROW: A probe would determine if the rights of shareholders who were not allowed to vote yesterday had been violated, while the stock exchange also wants answers The election of board directors yesterday at Tatung Co (大同) sparked controversy after the company blocked some institutional and individual shareholders from participating in the general shareholders’ meeting, prompting the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) to announce that the vote would be investigated. Lin Kuo Wen-yen (林郭文艷) was re-elected as chairwoman of the household-appliance maker’s nine-member board, but prior to the vote she announced that several shareholders would not have voting rights. They were being denied a vote because they had contravened the Business Mergers and Acquisitions Act (企業併購法), and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and