Monday, February 10, 2014

The Rise of the Robosapiens

Today on Far Future Horizons we present Robosapiens.

The field of robotics is quickly moving toward a new technological horizon: the dawn of the machine-man. Imagine a robot that not only walks and talks like you - but one that laughs, cries and even loves like you do. Scientists reveal that truly humanoid robots - machines with articulate and defined emotions, machines that can walk, run and play football - are closer to reality than we think. In Japan, fierce competition is underway to produce robots that will serve as our co-workers at the office and teammates on the field. Mechanical engineers demonstrate how they've already developed bipedal bots that effectively mimic the gait and posture of humans. While in the U.S., researchers focus on more practical applications - robots for the military and police. But, according to software engineers, the greatest technical challenge is producing robots that can interact emotionally with humans, by speaking to us and responding to our emotions - even developing and manifesting their own feelings. Designers use the very latest robotic prototypes to show how the formerly broad line between man and machine is growing thinner every day.



Robosapiens looks at how robots of the future could become amazingly sophisticated. Nell Raven asks whether there is a danger man-made machines may become too smart. The notion that humans could one day create machines as sophisticated as themselves has fascinated and appalled society in equal measure since the dawn of the industrial era.


This love-hate relationship with the idea of robots has given birth to a vast array of cultural icons, with Star Wars’ friendly C-3P0 and R2D2 at the one end of the scale and the evil Terminator at the other. But whether or not these models are an accurate prediction of what is to come, robots of one sort or another are slowly becoming part of the running of our planet.

HRP-2 Promet

This documentary highlights contemporary technology, beginning with a short history lesson on Honda’s robotics project. ASIMO’s chief engineer, Masato Hirose, appears saying it would be nice if his robot could be ready to help him by the time he is 55 (which is now only a couple of years away). 

Some of the highlights of Robosapiens include rare footage of Tokyo University’s full-size humanoid robot H7, and thoughts from James Kuffner, who programmed it and other famous humanoids (such as ASIMO and HRP-2 Promet here). 

He’s recently explored cloud-enabled humanoids and is now working at Google on autonomous cars.  His move away from humanoids is even telegraphed when he says, “I really believe that we’re not going to be able to make progress in robotics without some way to build upon the lessons learned.”  Without a Model-T, humanoids seem to be doomed to reinvent the wheel, but at least there’s stuff like ROS nowadays.  Joel Chestnutt, one of Kuffner’s colleagues who also worked on humanoids, now works at Boston Dynamics.

Morph 3 Robot

In another rare clip, AIST’s HRP-2P falls down during a cooperative manipulation task.  Other robots featured are: Tokyo Science University’s female head robot; Tokyo University’s K1; fuRo’s miniature bipeds Morph 2 and Morph 3; remote surveillance robots; MIT’s COG, Kismet, and swarm bots; NEC’s PaPeRo; ATR’s DB playing air hockey; and Waseda University’s expressive head WE-4.

Robosapiens is available on DVD through

Discovery Channel's Robosapiens


Robosapiens Also On YouTube
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