Lifelike robots start work at Tokyo museum
By Paul Ridden
June 26, 2014
Recent advances in robotics have included machines that can learn by having folks talk to them, or droids capable of reading human emotion. Most still look pretty much like motorized mannequins or variations on the Johnny 5 theme, though. Even advanced humanoid bots like Honda's ASIMO would stand out as distinctly non-human in a police line-up. Such things certainly can't be said of the lifelike (some might even say positively creepy) creations of Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. Two of his latest androids have now joined the staff of Tokyo's Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and will act as announcer and science guide for visitors to a new permanent exhibition.
Dr. Ishiguro's previous works have included a robot clone of himself and a female android with the catchy name of Geminoid-F. His latest creations form part of a new permanent exhibit curated by the roboticist. The child-like Kodomoroid bot will take the role of announcer, while Otonaroid (designed to look like an adult human female) will act as science communicator.
The first step in giving these androids a human-like appearance is to use a real person as the template. Key measurements are jotted down and casts made of the body parts that will be covered in artificial skin (head, arms, legs etc), even the model's teeth are cast and matched for the robot doppelgänger. A special kind of silicone that's designed to resemble human skin is shaped using molds and mounted over the bot's inner workings, with "artificial muscles" allowing for complex movements and lifelike expressions.
Both robots are remotely operated and remain in a seated position, though they can move their upper bodies, arms and hands. They can also sync their lips in time to the audio, move their eyebrows and blink, and gently tilt their heads from side to side.
Kodomoroid is tasked with reading news and weather reports from around the globe, in a variety of voices and languages, while Otonaroid will interact with the public face-to-face, and visitors to the exhibition will also be given the chance to operate her.
The exhibition opened this week, and also includes a third, minimally-designed and somewhat nightmarish, android named Teleroid, which was first introduced in August 2010. Having been through at least four design modifications since then, its "soft and pleasant skin texture and small, child-like body size allows one to enjoy hugging and communicating with it easily."