Friday, August 15, 2008

Does Not Compute

Robots are not a new idea.The human race has been dabbling with the notion for thousands of years. One of the earliest recorded accounts of automata is found in the Lie Zi text, written in the 3rd century BC. Within it there is a description of a much earlier encounter between a King Mu(1023 BC-957 BC) and a mechanical engineer known as Yan Shi, an 'artificer'. The latter proudly presented the king with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical handiwork.

Robots have fascinated and horrified me in equal measure since i was a kid. Yes i know that R2D2 and Asimo are generally viewed as being cute; I'll admit that i don't exactly get shivers when i seem them. I think i can definitely subscribe to the notion of The Uncanny Valley. The Uncanny Valley is a hypothesis that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's life likeness.

Japan appears to be at the forefront of developing actroids which are robots with strong visual human-likeness.They are mainly developed by Osaka University and manufactured by Kokoro Company Ltd which is the animatronics division of Sanrio.They can mimic such lifelike functions as blinking, moving, speaking, and breathing. The "Repliee" models are interactive robots with the ability to recognise and process speech and then respond.

An example of an actroid below:

Now to something not quite as lifelike but still unnerving. You can only imagine my reaction upon seeing Boston Dynamics latest offering. BD is an engineering company launched in 1992 that specializes in robotics and human simulation. Their robot known as BigDog gives me the FEAR...y'know the one...that creeps into your dreams, turns them into nightmares, chases you and is generally unstoppable. The noise it makes *shudders*

According to the BD website BigDog "is a quadruped robot that walks, runs, and climbs on rough terrain and carries heavy loads. BigDog is powered by a gasoline engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. BigDog's legs are articulated like an animal’s, and have compliant elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule, measuring 1 meter long, 0.7 meters tall and 75 kg weight."

You don't believe me?Check out the video

BigDog is being developed by Boston Dynamics with the goal of creating robots that have rough-terrain mobility that can take them anywhere on Earth that people and animals can go.

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