There is a new breed evolving throughout Europe composed of creatures that look like us but are not composed of flesh and blood. They are made of metal motors and silica and in time will exist among us. Icub, is the name of a small research child like humanoid robot that has the ability to learn and is shared in about 20 robotics laboratories around the world as an open platform for further research and development. Icub already has the ability to learn new actions directly from voice commands and being shown how to do something. They learn on the first try. Teachers would love this quality in their human students. Will there be a day when these humanoids made by man transcend man?
It is fairly easy to program a robot to mimic human movement and speech, but it is a much greater challenge to safely integrate humanoid robots into our real world environment smoothly. While humans are soft and flexible, humanoids are hard and rigid. The latest research is trying to recreate more behavior characteristics of a human so that a simple handshake feels like a handshake and overall movement flows more like a human and most important, it is friendly and compliant. The hands and arms have the most interaction with humans so the more flexibility and dexterity of both will create a safer cognitive interaction. Don’t forget about those two friendly eyes. How would you feel if there was only one eye to look at?
Walking is probably the most versatile way for the humanoid robot to get around but there are challenges of coordination and balance. Remember when you first learned how to walk? The robot has to not only walk, but has to interact with its surroundings with the rest of its body, like its skin. Recently there has been development of a robotic skin much like the touch screen on your iPhone. The shin is sensitive to human touch as well as any object it comes into contact with. Is this starting to sound creepy yet? Our little humanoid robot can walk, talk and is sensitive to its surroundings and perceive it.
To be or not to be, that is the question. Humanizing robots to be entertainers on the stage with real humans and play an active role as a character in a play has already been accomplished. To be a real companion certain expressions, behaviors and gestures are needed to make it seem like a little creature with life is inside it and not as an object like a toy doll.
NOA, is the smallest of the most widely used humanoid robot for research and education. There are over 5000 units throughout the world that are interacting with humans, especially in education of younger children to draw them into the world of science. Autistic children have an easier time interacting with a little humanoid robot and are able to carry some of that behavior over to real human interaction.
Open source first started with software industry and is now becoming the platform for robotic hardware and software to help accelerate the development of humanoids. With more collaboration between developers this will speed up the humanoid robotic evolution. These humanoid robots are very complex and involve multiple technologies and through open source are able to resolve issues quicker.
When people first interact with these humanoid robots their initial response is always curiosity, but there are also some very strong reactions both for and against humanoid robots. Some feel that man is playing God by building these humanoids while others absolutely love them, specially the little children. They have no fear of them because their little minds have not been influenced by their environment yet.