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• Robots Rising

It’s now more than a decade old, but Robots Rising is a documentary that anyone interested in robotics should enjoy – and not just because it’s narrated by Linda Hamilton (of Terminator fame).  Filmed in 1998, it’s a valuable historical record containing rare footage and interviews with luminaries such as MIT’s Rodney Brooks and Carnegie Mellon’s Red Whittaker.  At nearly two hours long it covers a wide range of robots including humanoids, swarms, biomimetic insects and fish, to stuff like rovers, ROVs, bomb disposal units, and nuclear clean-up bots.  It even gives a little time to clockwork automata, Hollywood animatronics, and SEGA’s crazy arcade games.

When it comes to humanoids there’s COG of course, but Honda’s P2 is easily the most impressive of the lot (having been unveiled in late 1996 it was then the most recent ASIMO prototype being shown).

There’s some great footage of Waseda University’s Hadaly-2, and the bulky WABIAN walks and dances while heavily armored spotters stand at the ready should it falter.

Then there’s the prototype of Saya, a “realistic” expressive female head from Tokyo Science University that is so unconvincing it doesn’t even fall into the uncanny valley.  It’s amazing to see how far the realistic humanoids have come in the past decade – though they have a long road ahead of them, Kokoro’s Actroids have made incredible strides.  Unfortunately most of the Japanese roboticists (Atsuo Takanishi, Fumio Hara, and Shigeo Hirose) are relegated to short soundbites while Mark Tilden and Brosl Hasslacher are given far too much time to wax philosophical about their supposedly “living machines”, which are incredibly lame.

Though it’s bit long and a little dry in spots I doubt you’ll regret it should you decide to track it down.

  • Robots Rising at IMDB

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