Manufacturing Create Robots More Lifelike Than Ever Before

sophia robotEngineering is almost continuously amazing. However, there’s something exceedingly special about the most prominent trend in robotics these days. More and more, engineers and scientists are finding ways to transform technology and create robots that look like humans.

While we’ve always been interested in creating “lifelike” robots, the line between artificial and human intelligence is growing thinner by the moment. Last week, a robot named Sophia, one of the most advanced androids to date, made the news because of her incredibly lifelike personality.

Sophia, who looks eerily similar to a real human, can imitate more than 62 facial expressions, using cameras inside her eyes that enable her to see, make eye contact, and recognize individuals. Sophia’s creator, Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, tells CNBC that Sophia actually gets smarter over time as she learns how to communicate. “Our goal is that she will be as conscious, creative and capable as any human,” said Hanson. “We are designing these robots to serve in health care, therapy, education and customer service applications.”

She’s made of silicone, and Hanson says that he prefers when robots look a bit like robots and aren’t too perfectly human. However, he says that the development of these androids, for which he’ll announce pricing later this year, is just the beginning of a robot-human relationship. “The artificial intelligence will evolve to the point where they will truly be our friends,” he said. “Not in ways that dehumanize us, but in ways that rehumanize us, that decrease the trend of the distance between people and instead connect us with people as well as with robots.”

So, will we be walking down the street next to robots, unable to tell if they’re human or not? Hanson thinks so. At Nanyang Technological University, researcher Nadia Thalmann believes that the more robots look like humans, the easier it will be for us to interact with them. “Over the past four years, our team at [Nanyang Technological University] have been fostering cross-disciplinary research in social robotics technologies,” said Thalmann, “to transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans.” Nadia has created an emotionally intelligent doppelganger of herself, Nadine—and no, this isn’t out of a science fiction movie.

Right now, Nadine is the “receptionist” at the university, but researchers say that she could be useful as domestic help, particularly for elderly people. Her lifelike appearance should help humans relate to her as if she were any other ordinary person.

Japanese electronics manufacturer Toshiba created ChihiraAico, a lifelike robot who can sing, talk, gesture, and cry like a 32-year old Japanese woman. So far, she can speak Japanese, Korean, Chinese, English, and Japanese sign language, and her manufacturer plans to place her in a department store in Tokyo to guide shoppers. “It would be good if we can have [ChihiraAico] provide guidance, or recommend various things in Chinese, so that people can be looking around and think ‘oh if Aiko is around, she can speak Chinese!’ That’s what I hope will happen,” Hitoshi Tokuda, Toshiba’s new business development division group manager, told Reuters.

The moral of the story is that humanesque robots are not in our future anymore. They’re here. The extent to which they infiltrate society is certainly up for debate, but manufacturers have found a way to create artificial intelligence with aesthetics that have never been seen before. The ramifications for manufacturing as an industry is fodder for another post, but it’s certainly possible that the industry could see more android factory workers in the future, even in customer service.

Photo credit: Hanson Robotics via CNBC

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