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• Robosapiens

Like Robots Rising and Beyond Human, Robosapiens is a documentary put out years ago by the Discovery Channel. Dating back to 2003, it is the most recent and enjoyable of the lot.  Running 45 minutes long, it’s focused primarily on Japanese humanoids.  It begins with some alarmist discussion of robots controlling society and doomsday scenarios, with an uncharacteristically dumb soundbite from Dr. Michio Kaku:

“If there’s an earthquake, all of a sudden we have a shutting down of the water supplies, and the robot will say, ‘Well, we must take care of all the fires that are breaking out.’  It’ll divert all the water to taking care of the fires, and at that point there’s going to be a massive dislocation in the water supply inside a city, and the robot will simply not know which catastrophe is more important than another catastrophe.”

As we’ve recently seen with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster, human governments already do a pretty good job of rationing water and electricity during catastrophes.  If in the future some form of artificial intelligence is in control of the power grid, there’s really no reason to assume it will be less capable.  In all likelihood such a system would be much more efficient than what we have today.  Thankfully the show quickly moves on to discussing contemporary technology, beginning with a short history lesson on Honda’s robotics project.  ASIMO’s chief engineer, Masato Hirose, appears saying it would be nice if his robot could be ready to help him by the time he is 55 (which is now only a couple of years away). I wonder how that’s going…

Some of the highlights include rare footage of Tokyo University’s full-size humanoid robot H7, and thoughts from James Kuffner, who programmed it and other famous humanoids (see some of his work with ASIMO and HRP-2 Promet here).  He’s recently explored cloud-enabled humanoids and is now working at Google on autonomous cars.  His move away from humanoids is even telegraphed when he says, “I really believe that we’re not going to be able to make progress in robotics without some way to build upon the lessons learned.”  Without a Model-T, humanoids seem to be doomed to reinvent the wheel, but at least there’s stuff like ROS nowadays.  Joel Chestnutt, one of Kuffner’s colleagues who also worked on humanoids, now works at Boston Dynamics.

In another rare clip, AIST’s HRP-2P falls down during a cooperative manipulation task.  Other robots featured are: Tokyo Science University’s female head robot; Tokyo University’s K1; fuRo’s miniature bipeds Morph 2 and Morph 3; remote surveillance robots; MIT’s COG, Kismet, and swarm bots; NEC’s PaPeRo; ATR’s DB playing air hockey; and Waseda University’s expressive head WE-4.  It’s all very entertaining and certainly worth tracking down.

  • Robosapiens at IMDB
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