Dr. Paul Oh, the director of Drexel University’s Mechanical Engineering department (home of the full-scale humanoid Jaemi HUBO), gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon in which he delivers the most convincing answer put forward to the question “Why humanoids?“.
Basically, America hasn’t seen a program since Apollo that could generate the same kind of interest and motivation to drive an entire generation (if not several generations) towards a scientific goal, as they have in Asia with humanoids. He suggests that humanoids can be used to excite and recruit the next generation of engineers; help to train students in a global age while fostering international relationships; reinvigorate the national passion for science and technology; and recruit more women into engineering thanks to the social aspects of humanoid robots.
This led him to his current work with the NSF on PIRE (Partners for International Research & Education), and the 5-year Jaemi HUBO project, which is a collaboration between the U.S. and Korea. As part of the plan, 20 undergrads will get to spend 6 months at KAIST in South Korea, and have already made significant contributions (see HUBO 2 is Part American!). He discusses the project for the remainder of his lecture, and even gives props to the hobbyists (or should I say Citizen Scientists?). It’s about an hour long, but is definitely worth watching if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
Note the concept video from 2003 that was initially shown to Amtrak, set in the year 2010 when UAVs and UGVs could conceivably be used to find and aid victims of natural and man-made disasters. The video features a conceptual rescue robot that seemed like science-fiction in 2003, yet looks almost exactly like the Robocue from Kikuchi Manufacturing (built in 2009).