The following is an excerpt from Tatsuya Matsui’s English homepage which is no longer available online. I have reproduced it here for educational purposes, for those interested in the history of his wonderful robot, PINO, which he created with Hiroaki Kitano for JST ERATO.
Reasons for Designing the Humanoid Robot
What reasons are there for designing the humanoid robot? Existing humanoid robot research centers on either the development of a humanoid machine from a mechanical engineering approach or, conversely, an analytic machine by which the mechanisms of thought or intelligence can be simulated and put into effect by a freely moving body reacting to diverse sensory information.
However disparate the means by which humanoid robot research has evolved, both are concerned with the human form as representative of its mechanical features. Aesthetics, we believe, will play an even larger role in the design requirements of the robot in order to grow as an industry the way automobiles and computers have evolved the aesthetic element playing a pivotal role in establishing harmonious co-existence between the consumer and the product. Accordingly, research that employs an element of aesthetics was considered also as a technological issue and inseparable from the robot’s primary mechanical functions.
The next generation of robot research will study the formation of relationships between humans and humanoids. The exterior design of the robot will be integral to clarifying its diverse mechanical functions and asserting its autonomy distinct from that of a mere object. It is this distinction that will enable humans to interact meaningfully with the robot. The designer now has to strive towards designing the relationship between the human and the robot. Traditionally, robotic systems have necessitated by the nature of its inner mechanisms the dynamic by which the robot is appraised from the standpoint of the human gazing upon an object. The exterior design of the robot has transformed this notion by subverting the viewpoint so that the object is looking back at the human; thus creating in between a spatial dimension previously unexplored in the research of humanoid robot design.
Guiding the Relationship between Humans & Robots
Primarily, engineering factors have determined the humanoid form the most expedient in robot design. For robots to be successfully integrated into human society their primary mobile functions will have to negotiate the same obstacles encountered by humans in daily life. In their role of aiding disaster relief and other potentially lethal employment, they will require the optimal mobility afforded by the human form in a human-designed landscape.
However, taking robotics a step further; the robot as a coveted consumer item reflecting the desires and aspirations of its user, it is necessary to reflect upon a system of aesthetic standards to be employed for the user to assert possession by means of psychological affiliation with the object. Thus the design must conform to the variable expectations of the user. In some cases the user may identify with the object on the basis of an aesthete: is this form compatible with already existing notions of beauty? Can this form be visualized in the context of “great art”? In other cases the user may project upon the object his or her longings for something entirely different; whether it be basic companionship or possession of yet another gadget desirable in status terms.
Necessity of Exterior Design
The relationship between robots and humans is a factor that designers have to explore more deeply for the successful integration of one into the society of the other. Indeed the mere inclusion of the robot in society in this century is not enough to sustain a lasting or particularly harmonious relationship between the two. For the robot to evolve from object to entity we need to address its genesis in purely human terms as we did with PINO, the humanoid robot who shares an ancestral link with Pinocchio, the puppet who aspired, through artificial means to be a boy, or more specifically, human.
Pino, the humanoid robot was developed in anticipation of the RoboCup Humanoid League. The importance of exterior design is connected first and foremost to the protection of its inner system in much the same way a car or computer is similarly shielded from contact. Still, providing a mere protective shield to reduce the risk of damage to its inner systems during performance could not sufficiently express our research direction which aims to express the role of the humanoid robot in society in the future. Thus our method, towards the aim of giving meaning to the existence of the robot, necessitated the creation of a story to explain not only its design elements but its role in a society of the future.
Before Pino went into development, we discussed what form, and just as importantly what size would be necessary to ensure its comfortable integration into the human home. Its size, we discovered was a very specific element of our design research that was carried out simultaneously during our primary research into its walking functions.
Robot Design – PINO, the Design Concept
The scale of a fully grown adult posed a threatening presence and would, we believe, cause a general sense of unease, being less a companion than a cumbersome and overpowering mechanical object. Thereupon, we judged the ideal size for such a robot would be 75 cm tall; the approximate size of a one year old child taking its first steps. As for form, it was deemed necessary to design its proportions as recognizably human as possible; deviating too far from the instantly recognizable form of a human child could cause it to be seen as an altogether different object. From a psychological point of view, we noted that even the casual observer focused more attentively, and ultimately more affectionately upon a similarly structured form.
The Origin of PINO’s name
Before starting the design sketches we searched for a universal element in the representation of the human form. Images handed down from the archives of such representational forms, we believed, provided the key to integrating into the future what has universally been acknowledged as fundamental beauty. Ancient Greek sculptures and more significantly, as it turned out, the more folkloric marionettes to name a few were evoked, not only for their obvious beauty, but just as importantly for their mournful aspirations towards perfection. The marionette, with its mechanisms to facilitate movement and expression provided the ideal framework by which Pino could be adapted.
Pinocchio, whose story needs no explaining, seemed an apt metaphor for our search for human qualities within the mechanical structures of our creation. We felt the necessity to place Pino somewhere in time, more specifically within the context of a story to elevate him above the static realm of the object. For this reason the infant sized cherub was discarded as a possibility despite the temptingly poetic implications of such a creature. An angel, knowing only flight finds his legs useless appendages, and PINO, whose primary function is walking, is unsuited for such dimensions. In his gestation, Pino symbolically expresses not only our desires but humankind’s frail, uncertain steps towards growth and the true meaning of the word human.
Project Director Hiroaki Kitano Ph,D.
Art and Design Director Tatsuya Matsui
Mechanic Design Fuminori Yamasaki
Space Design Motoi Nakamikawa, Nami Kashimura
Design Assistant for PINO Hiroyuki Hoshino
PINO’s Vision Support Takahiro Miyashita
JST ERATO Kitano symbiotic Systems Project SIG member
Copyright by JST ERATO Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project