The production unit (left) next to its prototype (right)
Hanson Robotics is showing the first production unit of their miniature humanoid robot, the Robokind. Its semi-realistic head with moving eyelids and lips is unique among this size of commercially-available research platforms. Prototypes are already being put to use in autism treatment therapy (see here).
Founded in 2003, the Texas-based company first unveiled a Zeno prototype back in 2007. At the time, David Hanson suggested the robot would cost just $300 – a prediction that would come back to bite him (the cheapest model Robokind starts at $11,500 USD). This puts the Robokind roughly in line with similarly-sized research platforms like the Robotis DARwIn-OP and Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO, but prevents it from ever becoming a mass-market toy. That may be about to change, as hinted at in the following video.
The older Zeno, with its more cartoonish facial features, was arguably cuter than the new model. The change may have come about as a result of the preferences of autistic children. In related studies by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, children expressed an affinity for robots with semi-realistic faces that are often described as “creepy” by others.
In any case, the new head (like that of Zeno’s female counterpart, Alice, available this August) has been improved by connecting the eyelids to the rest of the face. The body has thankfully been given a more competent paint job (though I’m still not sold on the orange-gray color scheme, nor the four-fingered hands). In addition, the top-of-the-line production unit sports 37 degrees of freedom (up from the previously published 33 DOF).
Hanson Robokind next to the original Zeno prototype
David Hanson hasn’t given up on his dream of making affordable robot companions: in the video Zeno promises that a smaller, less expensive model will be revealed in 2013. With the production unit standing 68.5 cm (27 inches) tall, the smaller model will be compatible with smartphone technology and might be based on his original prototype which stood just 43 cm (17 inches). His company is looking for investors to help bring it to market.