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Monday, October 15, 2012

Modern Robots of Japan - #8

Welcome to the penultimate blog of a thread that has seen us examine the way Japan used to measure the date, time, the creation of automatons and robots - with each connected to another. One more after this.

I have often found links in my blogs from one to the another - purely by accident rather than design , so I thought I would try one by design.

We left off with Japan creating robots- not the killer kind that travel through time looking to exterminate the human race, but rather the kind that can walk and move things.

Despite the level of sophistication of these robots in the 1990s, they still pale in comparison with what Japan cooked up in the next 12 years.

Let's look at some of the more interesting ones (as time permits):

I think we may all have seen this little guy in action. Known as AIBO (Artificial Intelligence roBOt), the name translates from the Japanese word aibō (相棒), meaning 'pal', making me wonder if they come up with the concept or the name first.

Introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2006, AIBO is a robotic dog that can walk, see (via a camera) and recognize spoken commands in Spanish and English, but not Japanese even though it was designed by Sony. That photo at the very top is the AIBO ERS-7 model, third-generation released into the wilds that is the public back in 2003.
Sit! Now Go get me a can of oil! Good dog!

AIBO robot pets are known as autonomous robots because they can learn and mentally grow based on outside influences from their owner, the environment and other AIBO pets.

By the way.. in 2006 Sony ended its robotics program. Or, that's what the robots want you to think.


Developed in 2000, Honda debuted its ASIMO humanoid robot selling its ass to the richest companies in Japan and the world.

Dubbed the most advanced robot ever, ASIMO was a tiny dynamo standing 1.6 meters (5-foot 3-inches) tall and ready to interact with people. It is the first robot designed for and actually available for consumers to purchase, but due to the cost, is only available for rent.

But, by 2009 Honda had revamped ASIMO so that it could even be controlled by human thought thanks to a new brain-machine-interface (BMI) technology (see photo below). Developed by Honda, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR) and the Shimadzu Corp., the BMI uses a sensor-laden helmet to measures the user's brain activity and a computer to analyze the thought patterns to relay them as wireless commands to the robot.
ASIMO is now thinking about porn. Crazy, stupid porn. Move your right hand, human.
If you think about moving your right hand, ASIMO will move its right hand a few seconds later. It will walk if you think about moving your legs and will hold its robot hand in front of its mouth when you think about moving your tongue because thankfully ASIMO does not have a tongue.

The BMI uses three brain activity measurements: EEG (electroencephalography) sensors measure the slight fluctuations in electrical potential on the scalp that occur when thinking, while NIRS (near-infrared spectroscopy) sensors measure changes in cerebral blood flow. Newly developed information extraction technology is used to process the complex data from these two sensors, providing an accuracy rate of a bit more than 90 per cent.

Honda has been conducting BMI research and development with ATR since 2005 and is thinking about using this interface tech to create other devices that users can operate without having to move because after that happens we humans will lose the muscles in our body and be ripe for an overthrow by our new robot masters. Way to kill the human race, Honda.

CB2 aka Creepy Boy Robot
Called 'Child Robot With Biomimetic Body' (CB2, for short) this is one disturbing-looking robot from the good folks of JST ERATO Asada Project and Kokoro Co. Ltd. at Osaka University who built it to learn about child development through mimicking humans.

Geezus! They've invented a robot that looks like it has Down's Syndrome! Brilliant in robotic, poor in anatomy.

Measuring 1.3 meters (4'-3") tall and weighing 33.1-kilograms (73-pounds), this big baby boy was originally designed to function as 1 one- to two-year-old. In other words, it was designed to look like a mutant. Seriously? By nearly seven-year-old son may or not be 22.7-kilograms (50-pounds).

CB2 has 51 air-powered motors and 197 tactile sensors under a soft, light gray silicone skin covering its body that makes it look undead or at the very least unhealthy. Couldn't they have made him, I mean it look more like a real boy, like that Pinocchio kid?

Comprised of robotics engineers, brain specialists, psychologists and other experts, the research team has been teaching the android to think like a baby by having it evaluate facial expressions and classify them into basic categories, such as happiness and sadness.

But here's the thing... since it's 'birth' in 2007, by 2009 CB2 had developed social skills and was now able to move around a room (with assistance) quite smoothly. Well, he is only two.

The plan is to have CB2 speaking sentences in two years... that would have been 2011... and since no further reports have come our way from Osaka University and CB2's 'father' Asada Minoru (surname first), we can only assume the child robot has grown quicker than expected and has stolen his dad's car keys and gone cruising for chicks.

In the next few decades (yes decades), the scientists are hoping to create a 'robo species' with the learning ability somewhere between a chimpanzee and a human... a missing link, if you will.

Guard Robot D1
In 2009, Alsok created a robot that looks like something out of the early 1980's Disney movie The Black Hole (awesome movie at the time!). Known as the Guard Robo D1, the robot performs double duty.

During the day, it's a mild-mannered robot at Canal City, Fukuoka-ken, acting as a tour guide providing website data with the ability to communicate in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.
Robot Guard D1 has deemed the city safe for small humans, but please don't poke me.

But when the sun goes down, it turns into a protector of the night - as a security guard. Via sensors, it can detect infrared radiation, ultraviolet rays and odors and can distinguish between people and objects. It can sense fire or excess water or people who are where they aren't suppose to be and sends out a message to alert the human guards while also sending along images as proof via a camera. After finishing a patrol the robot can charge itself by connecting itself to a battery charger.

In 2008 Fujitsu created ENON, a cute little robot equipped with a camera and facial recognition software so it can predict a person's age and gender. It can also speak and move around. After some recent upgrades in 2010, ENON acted as a store clerk able to entice different customers into entering stores depending on age and gender. In fact, the little bugger could switch from a male or female voice to appeal to different customers.
Says ENON: Hey momma, you lookin' fine! Come check out some booze ta makes ya feel all sexy!
I also found evidence to suggest that in Tokyo ENON was used to perform traffic duties in Tokyo. But really, he was designed to work in corporate facilities and shopping malls. Its upper body (I actually wrote 'his'!)

Anyhow, people... Japan has a lot of great robots... and maybe I'll highlight one or 12 in forthcoming blogs, but I'm tired and need to end this blog now. Okay... there are singing robots, climbing robots, killing robots, musical robots, sex robots (probably) and more... I will do as I am commanded.

The point being with this blog was to show that Japan really had some great robots and was certainly on the path to great things with their ability to see, to learn, to move... so how did Japan become embarrassed by its robots?

That's the next and final article in this thread

Andrew Joseph
PS:  Writing about robots hurts my brain. If only there were some sort of robot out there that could write for me...