Robots have been the subject matter of many a movie, typically relying on special effects. In the real world, however, giving robots the ability to express emotion or sing and dance are formidable tasks. Jerry Lin, a robotics professor at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST), has, with dogged tenacity, created robots with two legs and lifelike faces that can sing and act, and will even deliver your meals to you. He is currently planning to make a robot capable of playing drinking hand games.
For the past two decades, every mechanical engineering major at NTUST has had to take the course, “Special Issues in Mechanical System Design,” in which students must build working robots. Every year the theme is a bit different. Themes have included wrestling, throwing balls, rowing dragon boats, and qiang gu — a folk competition that is part of the annual Ghost Festival, all helping to test each student’s ability to put theories into practice and work together on a team. It is the oldest hands-on course in Taiwan for mechanical system design.
Lin was not originally a member of the robotics research world, but something unbeknownst to him nudged him in that direction, eventually moving him to develop multi-functional robots that are both educational and entertaining at the same time. Lin has even built a robot that has fingers capable of playing chess. In 2007, Janet, Taiwan’s first two-legged,165cm-tall robot with a lifelike face, was born, walking on two feet, capable of making expressions and even of acting out comic dialogues.
At the end of 2008, robotics history was made again when Janet got a younger brother, Thomas. They put on makeup and take to the stage together, performing in Taiwan’s first robotic theater performances. On stage they sing Phantom of the Opera and perform puppetry. They are also joined by Pica, a two-wheeled, two-armed robot that can describe a person’s face on the spot, as well as robot named Ringo playing a drum set.
Lin has been busy realizing his robot dream for the past 20 years. His foolhardy attitude over the years has allowed him to achieve all of the current success he enjoys. He ascertains that being “pragmatic” is the only way to acquire any significant opportunities. “My goal is to create technology that people can really utilize and improve industries in the process. I believe I’m doing something that is valuable and makes people happy,” Lin says.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)