20050126

Kinds of Robots 1 - human like

The main thing about robots is how incredibly stupid they are. -- James McLurkin


When I say I make art with robots, most people have an immediate idea. Unfortunately, that idea is usually far from what can be done. The main reason is that robot is a heavily loaded word in our culture today. There are many, often disparate things that are all called robot. All of them have some claim to using the name robot.

First are literary robots. We have to say first here because robots existed in literature long before any, except automatons, existed in reality. Literary robots as seen in fiction, plays, and movies are almost always humanoid. I would even include R2D2 as a humanoid robot. His most important features are his human like behaviors. Although his lack of language certainly puts R2D2 at an edge of humanoid robots rather than the center.

Literary robots have, of course, been used primarily to explore human issues. In my view, sadly, early literary robots explored how to get slavery right. One can even see Asimov's rules in this light.

Most movie robots have been costumes or puppets. Even R2D2 usually has a human inside. The metal skeleton of the terminator has a number of off screen operators.

Actual humanoid robots that are electromechanical devices with computers have been made, especially for research in Japan. This year has seen a popular Robosapiens toy capture the imagination of many.

Unfortunately today, an actual humanoid robot is able to do very little. They can walk short distances or smooth surfaces and climb stairs the fit a tight specification. They have also taught us a great deal about balancing. Actual humanoid robots fall down a lot, even in very limited and favorable environments. They fall down so much that one direction in humanoid robot research is building humanoid robots that know how to get up when they fall.

What can an artist due with a humanoid robot? A great deal. Although the major research autonomous humanoid robots have not and can not do much in this area, many other kinds of robot pursue an artistic and emotional response to a machine with a form or action similar to us.

Tadahiro Kawada's HRP-2 robot has a body designed by anime artists and for that reason seems much more engaging than other humanoid robots. By appearance alone this robot seems to have people believing they understand its movements and people project meaning into much more than I have observed with other humanoid robots. The size helps as well. HRP-2 is the same size as his inventors.

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