Two Legs Good

embarrassedlopsidedAI and Robotics

Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 6 months ago)


March 25, 2002

Two Legs Good

You've met C
3PO and R2
D2. Now meet SDR
4X, the new
"entertainment robot" Sony unveiled last week. It's a cute,
high robot that lists singing and co
nversation among its

making it a lot less useful than the

androids, but a fun toy nonetheless. It has a vocabulary
of 60,000 words, it can walk by itself, and once it gets to
know you, it will recognize your face.

4X is the
newest member of the growing family of
humanoid robots, and it's one of many that will be on display
at Robodex 2002, a four
day exhibition that begins this
Thursday in Japan. Featuring thousands of electronic creations
of all shapes and sizes, the exhibit
ion will focus on "robots as
partners." The official word is that "the goal of Robodex is to
provide people with 'love' and 'dreams' through robots and to
realize a society where humans and robots cohabit with each

Is that kind of society a very d
istant dream? Not if Honda has
its way. The Japanese corporation's robot division is working
steadily to "create a partner for people, a new kind of robot
that functions in society." Over the past few years, Honda has
developed a series of robots: the olde
st in the family is P1,
which came out in 1993, and the latest addition is ASIMO.

ASIMO looks a little like a 10
old in an astronaut's suit. It
weighs about 110 pounds and stands four feet tall. "ASIMO
will truly be able to help people in the 21st ce
ntury," says
Honda, adding that its "dream is that ASIMO will help improve
life in human society." A commercial for ASIMO describes how
the little robot will be able to respond to simple voice
commands, recognize faces, carry loads, and push carts


day, it might be able to assist the elderly and help with
household tasks.

For the time being, ASIMO is only available for high
tasks: earlier this month it rang the opening bell at the New
York Stock Exchange. Japanese businesses can rent ASIMO,

but the rest of us will have to wait a while before such service
robots are available for sale. Sony's SDR
4X, on the other
hand, will hit the stores later this year (if you're willing to pay
the price

it costs about the same as a luxury car). The dog
ike robot, Aibo, is a little more reasonably priced: the most
sophisticated model runs at around $1500. Sony has already
sold thousands of them.

A Robot Is Born

The word "robot" was coined by the Czech playwright,
Karel Capek (CHOP ek) in a p
lay published in 1920

Rossum's Universal Robots,


Capek derived
the word "robot" from the Czech word

means "harsh or forced labor."


takes place in a factory in which artificial
humans (robots) are manufactured as a cheap lab
force. Eventually, the inevitable happens, and the
robots declare war on the human race.

Rules for Robots

The science
fiction writer Isaac Asimov (1920
believed that for humans and robots to exist together
peacefully, there had to be a set of law
s for robots that
would prevent them from causing harm to humans.

So, in 1950, in a collection of stories titled
I, Robot,

Asimov published his Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A Robot may not injure a human being or, through
inaction, allow a human being to c
ome to harm.

2. A Robot must obey the orders given it by human
beings except where such orders would conflict with
the First Law.

3. A Robot must protect its own existence as long as
such protection does not conflict with the First Law.

It's a Robot's World

Whether for entertainment or service purposes, Sony and
Honda's robot divisions have be
en dealing with the same
technical challenges: how to get a robot to see, hear, walk,
climb stairs, dodge obstacles, and pick itself up if it falls over.
It's a long list and it highlights just how complex humans are

all of our capabilities are difficult

to replicate in a machine.
Engineers are making progress, though.

Robots have come a long way since the first simple models
were developed for industrial use in the 1950s and 1960s. The
robotics industry really took off following the development of
the m
icrochip in the 1970s, which allowed for making the
"brains" of robots smaller and less expensive.

Between 1980 and 1996, the number of robots per 10,000
workers in the manufacturing industry grew from 8 to 265 in
Japan, from 2 to 79 in Germany, and from
3 to 38 in the
United States.

Number of Robots in Industrialized Countries

(per 10,000 workers)











United States



The figures are still increasing. According to the
Handbook of
Industrial R

the number of robots in the United States
almost doubled in the 1990s, with robots doing an increasing
number of diverse jobs:

Performing tasks in surgery:

In January of this
year, the United States' first robot
assisted coronary
artery bypass was carried out. Usually, a coronary
bypass requires that a ten
inch incision be made in a
patient's chest. But with
the robot, only three
sized holes are made between the ribs.
Through these holes, two robotic arms and a tiny
camera access the heart. Because such small
incisions are made in the chest, the patient makes a
much quicker recovery.

Working in space:

NASA's space shuttles are fitted
with robotic arms. Earlier this month, space shuttle
Columbia's robot arm assisted with repairs to the
Hubble Space Telescope. NASA is also developing
"Robonaut," a robot that will accompany astronauts
on space expeditions

and perform tasks that might
prove dangerous for the astronauts. Also in the
works are tiny robot insects that will allow
exploration of previously inaccessible areas on other

Defusing bombs:

Police regularly use robots in
place of humans to def
use bombs and to enter
danger zones.

Work It Out

ther of Honda's robot prototypes, P3, is built to
closely resemble the dimensions and design of the
human body. P3 is 62.9 inches (160 centimeters) tall
and weighs in at 286 pounds (130 kilograms). It has a
shoulder span of 23.6 inches (60 cm).

How does P
3 compare to your own height? What about
your weight? Work out what percentage of your height
and weight P3 has.

P3's "skeleton" is made of the metal magnesium,
which has less than a quarter the density of steel. An
object that weighs 15 pounds (6.8 kg) w
hen made
from magnesium would weigh 70 pounds (31.8 kg) if it
were made from steel.

If a given object weighs 100 pounds when made of
magnesium, work out the approximate weight of the
same object if it were made of steel.

More Links

In news announced last

week, the
first human cyborg

Becoming "man's best friend":

Sony's AIBO
(Artificial Intelligence Robot) robot puppies are
programmed to imitate the behavior of real dogs.
(But they won't chew your slippers!)

Thinking Machines

Despite their sophistication, the heart
surgery robot,
Robonaut, and ASIMO all lack a fundamental human capacity:
the ability to think, make decisions, and be creat
ive. Artificial
intelligence (AI) is the term used to describe this capacity for
a computer or a robot to imitate the thinking and decision
making capabilities of the human mind.

Scientists at the AI Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MI
T) are working on several projects that aim to
create robots that think and behave like humans. One of those
projects is known as Cog (short for "cognition").

The Cog engineers are striving to build a robot that learns
behavior in the same way a child doe
s. By interacting with its
surroundings, Cog learns simple behavior patterns

it has
already mastered hand
eye coordination skills (it can reach
out to something that it sees), and it can nod and shake its
head in imitation of its caretakers. It can also
play with a

Professor Rodney Brooks, the director of MIT's AI laboratory
says that the goal of the project is to produce "a thinking
robot. If we are successful, there may not be a place for
humans in the future."

part man, part machine

was created. Read more

Visit the
al Asimo and P3 Web site

from Honda.
You can also visit the
Robodex 2002 Web site

your own robot

courtesy of the Computer
Museum. (Requires Shockwave.
Download now

Learn more about how the invention of the microchip
launched robot technology

Find out more about NASA's space
, in
this article from

, an "emotional" robot developed at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial
Intelligence laboratory.

The Steven Spielberg movie

features thinking