They’re doing their best to walk the walk and talk the talk
Humans may not have the fastest or strongest bodies on earth but they are super multifunctional. Sure, we can’t jump as high as frogs, or swim as well as dolphins but we’re still able to achieve both forms of motion. The versatility of our physical ability has inspired us to create a world filled with tools and structures that would be impossible for many other animals to use – can you picture a cat using a door handle or a fish using stairs?
When industrial robots first came into the picture several decades ago, they were mainly used to accomplish very specific tasks and so their designs were purely functional. Today, there’s a big interest in developing robots for broader purposes including using them as research tools to further understand ourselves.
Some of today’s humanoid robots may seem a little bit creepy but sometimes it does make sense to give robots human-like bodies so they’re apt to operate amongst our human-centred designs. Many robots used for research need human bodies too, because researchers interested in studying human cognition know that while we need our brains to interact with our bodies, we also need our bodies in order to interact with the world.
So what does it really take to be a humanoid robot? Well, it should be able to move on two legs, use hands similarly to the way we do and perceive their own state and the state of the environment around them. They should also be able to communicate through modalities like speech or facial expression. Furthermore, they should be able to learn from and adapt to the environment around them.
This month, DARPA (the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced a new robotics challenge: While they maintain that it’s not imperative that the robot take on a humanoid form, the robot must be compatible with human operators, environments and tools. Robots in the running will compete with each other in a sort of obstacle course that will pose 8 real-world disaster site challenges. Among the tasks are: climbing a ladder, driving a utility vehicle and removing debris blocking an entry way. Proposals are due by May 31st, 2012.
The video above features Boston dynamic’s PETMAN who may already be capable of performing some of those tasks. While it seems like a bot that could get some serious work done, there are other humanoids that are a little easier on the eyes! Check out a video of Honda’s latest version of their Asimo robot below. If you want to check out something that’s a little bit different check out iiee spectrum’s compilation of robot babies and for more ideas on future robots, check out the European initiative: Robot Companions for Citizens.