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Get used to robots in your community

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by: Hans van der Broek
get used to robots in your community

Get used to robots in your community

Humanoid robots have come eerily close to overcoming the uncanny valley. With the right features in place, they are almost indistinguishable from their organic counterparts. Almost. The latest are able to talk like us, walk like us, and express a wide range of emotions. Some of them are able to hold a conversation, others are able to remember the last interaction you had with them. As a result of their highly advanced status, these life-like robots could prove useful in helping out the elderly, children, or any person who needs assistance with day-to-day tasks or interactions. For instance, there have been a number of studies exploring the effectiveness of humanoid robots supporting children with autism through play. But with the likes of Elon Musk voicing concern over the risk of artificial intelligence, there is some debate regarding just how human we really want our robotic counterparts to be. And like Musk, some of us may worry about what our future will look like when intelligence is coupled with a perfectly human appearance. But Sophia, an ultra-realistic humanoid created by Hanson Robotics, isn't concerned. AI is good for the world, she says. Still, while the technology behind advanced android robotics has come a long way, there is still a lot of work to be done before we can have a face-to-face conversation with an entity without being able to tell that we are speaking with a replica. But that is not to say that scientists and engineers haven't come close. With this in mind, here are six humanoid robots that have come the closest to overcoming the uncanny valley.

The First Android Newscaster

Japanese scientists proudly unveiled what they claim to be the very first news-reading android. The life-like newscaster called Kodomoroid read a segment about an earthquake and an FBI raid on live television. Although it or she has now retired to Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, she is still active. She helps visitors and collects data for future studies about the interactions between human androids and their real-life counterparts.


BINA48 is a sentient robot released in 2010 by the Terasem Movement under the supervision of entrepreneur and author Martine Rothblatt. With the help of robotics designer and researcher David Hanson. BINA48 was created in the image of Rothblatt's wife, Bina Aspen Rothblatt.BINA48-Robot-WhatsOrb-Hanson Robotics BINA48 has done an interview with the New York Times, appeared in National Geographic and has traveled the world, appearing on a number of TV shows.

See how she measures up in the Times interview below. GeminoidDK is the ultra-realistic, humanoid robot that resulted from a collaboration between a private Japanese firm and Osaka University, under the supervision of Hiroshi Ishiguro, the director of the university Intelligent Robotics Laboratory.


GeminoidDK is modeled after Danish professor Henrik Scharfe at Aalborg University in Denmark. Unsurprisingly, his work surrounds the philosophical study of knowledge; what separates true from false knowledge. It is not only the overall appearance that was inspired by professor Scharfe. His behaviors, traits, and the way he shrugs his shoulders were also translated into life-life robotic movements.

Junko Chihira

Junko Chihira This ultra-realistic android created by Toshiba works full-time in a tourist information center in Tokyo. She can greet customers and inform visitors on current events. She can speak Japanese, Chinese, English, German, and even sign language. Junko Chihira is part of a much larger effort by Japan to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Not only robotic tourist assistants will be helping the country with the incoming flood of visitors from across the globe in 2020; drones, autonomous construction site machines and other smart facilitators will be helping as well.


Nadine This humanoid was created by the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Her name is Nadine, and she is happy to chat with you about pretty much anything you can think of. She is able to memorize the things you have talked to her about the next time you get to talk to her. Nadine is a great example of a social robot a humanoid that is capable of becoming a personal companion, whether it is for the elderly, children or those who require special assistance in the form of human contact.


Sophia Perhaps one of the most recent, most prominent life-like humanoids to be shown off in public is Sophia. You might recognize her from one of many thousands of public appearances, from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. She was created by Hanson Robotics and represents the latest and greatest effort to overcome the uncanny valley. She is capable of expressing an immense number of different emotions through her facial features and can gesture with full-sized arms and hands. On her own dedicated website, you can find an entire biography written in her voice. But I'm more than just technology. I'm a real, live electronic girl. I would like to go out into the world and live with people. I can serve them, entertain them, and even help the elderly and teach kids.

Robots also need fashion 

When JiaJia, a Chinese-built robot, did a short Q&A with an AI expert earlier this, year most tech journalists focused on the delay in her responses and her less-than-brilliant answers. Many in China were struck by something quite different: her white embroidered robes and elaborate hairstyle. Beautiful! was a common comment. For the occasion she wore hanfu, a historic style of clothing inspired by China's ancient and medieval rulers. That's frequently how JiaJia dresses for public appearances or rather, is dressed by the slew of humans responsible for choosing her outfits. As humanoids like Jia, developed to look like people, become commonplace, the developers of these machines are going to have to think more often about this: What should a robot wear in the 21st century? To a human reared on western 20th-century movies about the future, the words and fashion; bring to mind outfits dramatically unlike JiaJia's attire they generally involve black leather (or fake leather) for male robots, and form-fitted jumpsuits of some kind of shiny fabric or a punk-rock aesthetic for women. But for robot women in Asia, just like for human women, fashion is shaped not by visions of a cyberpunk future, but also ideas about the past, society and race.

Apart from the occasions where she's appeared in a gold lam gown, Jia Jia, who has been in development since 2012 at the Hefei-based University of Science and Technology of China in eastern China, usually wears Han clothing. One of her creators explained to Quartz via email that while deciding how to dress her, the team drew inspiration from a Chinese folk tale about a helpful fairy.The Conch Fairy, according to a summary from Chen Xiaoping, director of the university's robotics lab, an orphan farmer brings home a conch shell. While he's away tilling the fields, a beautiful fairy emerges from it each day to secretly surprise him with a spotless house and an array of delicious dishes on his return. Professor Chen cites the tale, which he says dates from the 4th century, as inspiration for the service robots the lab is developing. In the future, Chen believes robots will be commonplace for service tasks in restaurants and nursing homes. JiaJia is a newer iteration of a robot the lab first developed in 2008, whose name, KeJia, was inspired by the tale. We all agreed that Conch Fairy in the tale is a prototype of service robots. This is really amazing since the tale was recorded in a Chinese historical document, said professor Chen via email. JiaJia/KeJia follows up the old dream of service robots since ancient times. We would like to reflect this with JiaJias dresses and outfits of Han and Tang dynasties, as you see in the photos. Professor Chen added that the elaborate clothing is designed and hand-made by students and experts at the lab's figure-design group a level of craft beyond the reach of most human women.There are also practical reasons for the clothing choice robots aren't as flexible as humans and draped or wrapped clothing is more forgiving. The robot can hardly wear modern dresses without remolding or re-designing them, since the structure of JiaJia's shoulders is a little different from humans. But JiaJia can wear Chinese traditional dresses easily, wrote the professor.

The aesthetic adopted for JiaJia shows how movements built around tradition can seep into spaces that are ostensibly about science and technology as well as how robots can contain ideas about culture. In May, a calligraphy-drawing male robot in flowing robes appeared at an expo, this time modeled on a Ming dynasty-era philosopher admired by Chinese president Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader has sought to promote a new respect for historic Chinese figures such as Confucius, once disparaged by the pary.Kevin Carrico, an anthropologist, linked JiaJia's clothing to another effort in China built around the past, noting that one enthusiast for the robot goddess commented online that the the era of Han Clothing has arrived. Carrico has studied a two-decade old grassroots clothing movement in China whose adherents have taken to publicly wearing what they call Han clothing. He describes the movement in a new book as involving invention rather than revival and has noted that is followers are invested in the idea of the cultural superiority of the Han, the ethnic majority that forms China's mainstream.This robot is a very interesting development it combines mastery of the most advanced AI technologies (or at least attempts at mastery) with a traditional look, said Carrico, in an email to Quartz soon after JiaJia's interview. In that sense it's almost a metaphor for all of the contradictions in culture in China today, the desire to master science and technology while maintaining a Chinese essence. So far, JiaJia has mostly been on the exhibition circuit in China.


But a humanoid developed in Hong Kong named Sophia, modeled physically after Audrey Hepburn and Caucasian in appearance, gets around a lot more than her Chinese counterpart. She's been on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in New York, sung at Hong Kong's Clockenflap music festival, where she wore a jean jacket and a blue wig, and appeared last year on the cover of Elle Brasil.

Jeanne Lim, chief marketing officer at Hanson Robotics, which created Sophia and other lifelike robots, does double duty as Sophia's stylist.She's kind of like us, we sort of dress for the occasion, Lim told Quartz. Lim bought Sophia a jacket for Clockenflap from Hong Kong department store SOGO, and has also bought her ready-to-wear items from the US department store Nordstrom. For the Elle photo shoot, magazine staff showed up with a rack of clothes, the same as they would for a human model, Lim recalled. They photographed her holding a clutch though it’s not clear what Sophia might put in it: a spare battery, perhaps.The challenges to dressing Sophia involve both form and function, Lim said. For starters, Sophia’s body ends at her waist. For the Fallon show (watch from about 2:20), Sophia appeared on a wheeled pedestal, which allowed her to don a long skirt and speak with the late-night host more-or-less face to face. Because Sophia’s interactive capabilities depend in part on a front-facing camera on her chest that allows her to “read” expressions and react appropriately, lower-cut necks are better and turtle-necks are out. Dresses are hard because she needs somewhere for her power cord to emerge from. Lim said breathable fabrics are important too—Sophia tends to get quite warm when she's powered up, and needs something that dissipates heat.As well as off the rack, Lim's tried out designers to make bespoke clothing for Sophia but hasn't been entirely happy with the results. I guess I've only looked at designers for human beings, she said.Lim thinks Sophia looks good in silver, and other materials and color that are sleek and convey an aesthetic of advanced technology. She could blend in, but because she is not human she just looks better in something that is more edgy and futurist,said Lim. We want her to represent future technology, future architecture, future design.Lim is still working on Sophia's look: Its sort of like the robot as well her intelligence and character evolving, so is her fashion sense. It doesn't do justice to box her into a specific style right now.


Toshiba's Chihira android is probably the most low-maintenance of the three. Chihira has at times been seen wearing a kimono, for example at an event at a department store in Japan in 2015. Toshiba told Quartz that Chihira Aiko, an earlier version in the series, used to make public appearances on seasonal occasions and her outfits would be chosen from readymade options in collaboration with the clients at whose events she was appearing. Chihira Junco, leads a less exciting life. She mostly works as a receptionist and in this role, the company said, she generally wears a corporate uniform. Toshiba did not elaborate on who chooses these or how many different suits she has.

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Hans van der Broek , founder Founder and CEO of WhatsOrb, world traveller, entrepreneur and environmental activist. Hans has countless ideas and has set up several businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. He also has an opinion on everything and unlimited thoughts about how to create a better world. He likes hiking and has climbed numerous five-thousanders (mountain summits of at least 5000m or 16,404 feet in elevation)  
Hans van der Broek , founder Founder and CEO of WhatsOrb, world traveller, entrepreneur and environmental activist. Hans has countless ideas and has set up several businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. He also has an opinion on everything and unlimited thoughts about how to create a better world. He likes hiking and has climbed numerous five-thousanders (mountain summits of at least 5000m or 16,404 feet in elevation)  
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