Back in 2007, we did a report on Zeno, a humanoid robot with a remarkable range of movement and impressive artificial intelligence that was aimed at the children’s toy market. Built by Hanson Robotics, the 17-inch (43 cm) tall robot could stand, make eye contact and had artificial intelligence software with voice recognition to enable it to engage in conversations. Projected retail price was US$300. Five years later, Hanson has released a YouTube video announcing that the latest version of Zeno is going into production, though it’s a bit taller and a lot more expensive.
Part of the Hanson RoboKind series, Zeno bears a resemblance to its more primitive namesake. It has the same robot body with a disconcertingly human-like head on top, but the features have a less cartoon-like exaggeration about them. Zeno's head is made out of a material that Hanson Robotics calls “Frubber,” which it claims allows human-like expressions - although, the video suggests not necessarily a great range of them with movement apparently limited to the lips and the blinking of the eyes.
The video’s purpose isn’t so much to sell Zeno to the public as to raise venture capital for Hanson by showing off the robot’s various features. The new version of Zeno, which is manufactured in China, now stands 27-inches (67 cm) tall and, where the previous one was controlled wirelessly by a PC, this one carries its computer and AI software internally. It has a pair of high definition cameras behind the eyes for facial recognition and the body has 37 degrees of movement – the most of any Hanson robot so far.
Zeno’s open-platform software allows for custom tinkering by the purchaser, but the robot is currently programmed for a number of functions as well as speaking 26 languages. In the video, it asserts that it can carry on “conversations” and show “compassion.” It can also “deliver education curricula,” provide autism treatment therapy and can answer questions. It demonstrated the last of these by fielding spoken questions on astronomy, sports and films.
Zeno will be joined by a “female” counterpart called Alice in August of 2012. Neither, however, will be selling for the US$300 that Hanson had hoped for five years ago. Though no price has been set, current Hanson RoboKind robots are valued on its website at up to US$16,750. However, the company is still keen on breaking into the mass market and plans to roll out smaller, cheaper "cousins" for Zeno sometime in 2013.
The latest version of Zeno introduces itself in the video below.
Source: Hanson Robotics via plasticpals