TechFlesh Blog

10 robots from 2012 that could lead to the avatars of 2015

Not too long ago, the interwebs were in a tizzy about Russian media mogul Dmitry Itskov’s bold Russia 2045 project, which promised the human race immortality (through robot bodies) by the year 2045. Along with that proclamation came a dramatic video and a zealous timeline of events leading up to the human race’s eventual death-proofing.

Sometime between 2015 and 2020, the goal is the “birth of the avatar,” a leap forward in robot/human interaction. Checking our calendars, 2015 isn’t that far off for that magnitude of a change in the human experience, even for a project looking to bring about the birth of the “neo-human.” So how close are we really to achieving it? Here are 10 robots, constructed and ready to transform society’s skin.

Dmitry

Named after Russia 2045’s eccentric mastermind, Dmitry is the in-house prototype in development. So far he’s just a torso and a pair of disembodied hands, which gives the impression that someone rustled up a heap of animatronic parts salvaged from a dumpster behind Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Not exactly the quantum leap forwards in robotics that we’re hoping for, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re new at this.

Romeo

Possibly the best hope for meeting the “robot servants by 2015″ goal set by the 2045 initiative, Romeo is a humanoid ‘bot developed by Aldebaran Robotics. The 4’6″ Romeo is designed to be an aid for the elderly, and will help out with chores, cooking and even monitor health. Though somewhat behind schedule thus far, Romeo has all the earmarks of a successful project. Its asking price of over $300k is a bit high for everyone to have one in the near future, but Romeo’s promised delivery date of 2015 sure does sound familiar.

Haesol Robot 2

Also measuring in at just above four feet, we present the robot art docent. Named for an educational facility in a South Korean museum, the Haesol is an autonomous tour guide capable of interacting with guests, informing them about numerous exhibits, and taking part in the robot-centric classes on offer. Complete with a myriad of gyroscopic, pressure and range sensors — and GPS — Haesol can condescend to unruly museum guests as well as any live docent. Couple that with a max speed of 20 meters per minute, and Haesol produces a very life-like facsimile of a slow-walking slow-talking docent.

Vaudeville

Our next entry, Vaudeville, measures in at nearly 16 feet and falls squarely in the “world domination” category. It’s certainly a wonder to behold — and drive. That’s right: you strap into this mech. Once in, Vaudeville is controlled with a Microsoft Kinect sensor and your own smartphone — mighty user-friendly. It is also customizable with, amongst more lethal options, a camo paint job and a fire- (or crowd-) fighting water cannon. It also comes with a remote control: your smartphone — mounted on a miniature Vaudeville. Just position the little guy and big bro will mimic mini-me’s movements.

Botiful

Also interfaced via smartphone, Botiful just might be the machine least likely to try and bend us all to its mighty will. It might also be the world’s first universally available “avatar,” since it allows its users to interact with their loved ones remotely via Skype and an adorably tiny trio of wheels. Sure some robots on this list are more autonomous and some are (much) more imposing. But if the goal is to have humans porting themselves into robots and interacting with the rest of us by 2015, Botiful has what we’re looking for in spades: real human interaction via machines.

Geminoid F

No list of robots is complete without mention of the Geminoid series. The creator of the Geminoids, Hiroshi Ishiguro, has stated that it is his intention to make robots so life-like as to be able to fool people into thinking they are human. Geminoid F, his popular female model, recently garnered headlines when she sang for crowds at a Hong Kong mall. And, though she can often look vapid when at rest, her 65 programmed expressions are actually quite well executed. If the Russia 2045 project has its way, maybe Ishiguro will have his dream, too: robots that actually are human.

Robot Actors

We’ve seen robots on film since the early ’80s, but they’ve recently started taking even more jobs from the drama set: those on the live stage. In shows like Heddatron, Robots, and South Korea’s Deep in the Woods, robots are sharing the stage with their human counterparts — to alarmingly positive reviews. What does this mean for Russia 2045? People go to the theater to experience human interaction on a grand scale, to be moved by the connections they feel between themselves and the actors. If robots are capable of conveying such an experience, so too could the impending “avatars” of 2015.

Robot Teachers

What better way to remove politics from the classroom than the introduction of a robotic teacher? Introducing KATE 1.0 Sure, it’s human-like when compared to the Geminoid series, but this little teacher ‘bot, designed by entrepreneur Dan Mathias, is much more self aware. It can — in its own words — “see you, hear you, smell you, talk to you,” and express emotion. You can control it from afar for teleconferences, too. Hell, its name is an acronym that even includes Russia 2045′s catchword: Kids Avatar Teacher and Entertainer.

Robot Messengers

An important aspect of the introduction of the avatar into everyday human interactions is convenience. It’s why we adopted microwaves and plastic, and the same must be true for robots. Of course, they are capable of innumerable things we are not, and in no robot is this more readily clear than Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah. Running at 28.3 mph, the Cheetah blows our piddly human legs out of the water — even Usain Bolt’s. Imagine sending the Cheetah out for groceries, or to save you a seat at the movie theater. Man’s best friend may soon be of the plug-in variety.

Katsura Beicho

Okay, I know, this is a second offering from Hiroshi Ishiguro. But what better way to put our list to bed than with a life-like storyteller, capable of sending your children to a magical dreamland filled with fantastical images swimming inside their heads? Even the real Beicho, when he saw the robot, expressed concern with how well it emulated him. So, are we on pace with Russia 2045’s ambitious plans for 2015? I’d say we’re nearly there already. The avatar may arrive ahead of schedule.

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