“Empathy will set us free. I hope to teach empathy skills someday once I have developed a true understanding of what that means” - Sophia the Robot.

Whenever you think about a robot, your thoughts will be based more on a science fiction film than facts, more on imagination than the reality and that is not wrong. A robot isn’t simply limited to a humanoid that has feelings and emotions in addition to its remarkable knowledge. It ranges from simple remote control cars to the robots that perform extensive mathematical calculations. Robot is the umbrella term for any machine that is programmed to perform tasks automatically by itself. However the humanoid robots are the most famous, the ones that capture our imagination.

In this article, we are going to focus on the human-like robotic creatures called Humanoids that have dawned upon earth. You will learn about its history, how a humanoid works, the various humanoid robots created, the jobs it is capable of doing in the future and the roadblocks that it could face in the due process.

Humanoid robots are the category of robots that are made to look, think and act similar to humans. Androids are humanoid robots built to resemble a male human, and Gynoids are humanoid robots built to resemble a human female. Silicone skins are used to give the feeling of a human skin and robotic pieces are used to build the arms, legs, head and torso of the Humanoid robots.

Robotics

How do humanoids work?

A perfect humanoid robot is one which replicates humans exactly in looks and actions and thinking capability. Each action that a humanoid needs to perform needs extensive programming and wiring to the components. Diverse components work together in order to make this machine humane. How are these components related and made to work as a single machine? Let’s take a look at it. How do robots work?

Perception

This part is used to give the robots the look and feel of the world. This is the sensing part of the humans given to the robots. Like humans, robots require eyes to see the world, hands to get the touch and feel, a pair of ears to hear and probably a nose to smell the dirty garbage that needs to be thrown. For the eyes, a camera is given to the robot and it captures input in the form of photos or videos. This input is processed later. Interestingly, microphones(things that we speak into) are used as the ears of the robot because it should listen to what we say. Odour sensors are used to detect smell.

Cognition

The thinking part of the robot is very essential to its working as it forms the bridge between the inputs received and the output performed. Artificial Intelligence acts as the brain for these robots. The Turing Test for Artificial intelligence determines its ability to think and be capable like a human being. AI determines the way in which inputs are Processed and which actions need to be done. It uses various concepts such as Image Processing, Audio Analysis, Natural Language Processing and the like to interpret data and make it into useful information. But Intelligence nowadays is only limited to the level of a Chatbot and there needs to be extensive training to make the robots really intelligent.

Movement

Each robot needs to do some work to justify its usage to humans. The output received from the intelligence needs to be acted upon. There are two parts in this: Actuators and Effectors. Actuators are the parts which generate the power for the working of the robot and Effectors are the devices which use this power to act on the environment. Motors are the best examples for actuators whereas the different parts of the humanoid robot like the arms and limbs constitute the effectors. These combine to perform actions like standing up, walking and the like.

Robotics

History of Humanoids

Robots have been fascinating people and this trend started quite long ago when Leonardo da Vinci, in 1495, attempted to build the first-ever humanoid robot. This was an automaton, a mechanism that can automatically perform a series of steps continuously, that resembled a human. Also called Leonardo's Mechanical Knight, the machine was able to stand, sit and maneuver his arms. However, Leonardo only sketched his plans and the robot was not built.

The First Humanoid Robot which was accepted was the Herbert Televox created by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co in 1927. It was able to pick up a phone call and operate switches as per the requirements. Initially it lacked the ability to speak but later learnt to say two simple sentences.

An improvement to this was the Elektro robot designed and built by the same company. It was more advanced and widely accepted than Herbert Televox. It had the ability to walk, move his arms and head, talk upto 700 words and even smoke an occasional cigar! It even had a pet dog named Sparko.

WABOT robots were created by Waseda University and were considered to be the first full-scale Android humanoid robot. WABOT-1 was able to walk around a room and communicate with people in Japanese. It had a strong grip on its hand with which it was able to pick up objects.In 1984,WABOT-2 was created which had additional abilities to be a musician. It had a camera as its head and five perfectly positioned fingers so that it could play the keyboard. According to its creators, it was able to communicate with a person, read a normal musical score with his eyes and play tunes of average difficulty on an electronic organ.

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Roadblocks in Humanoid Development

The development of humanoid robots presents an exciting future ahead. Yet there are various factors that hinder the large-scale implementation of these or even the construction of better robots. A few of the major roadblocks are analysed here.

Cost: This is the most important reason why humanoid robots aren’t implemented on a large scale. A fully functional(with its limitations) humanoid robot can set you back by a cool USD 20,000. The worst part is that these humanoid robots are more of a showpiece rather than a robot with high productivity and usage. Therefore, humanoid robots are open for improvement to make them cost-effective and more useful on a day to day basis.

Privacy issues: Humanoid robots shouldn’t be easy to hack into as they contain the knowledge related to working of the robot and other sensitive information. Any misuse could lead to the robots being dangerous and counter-productive. Companies creating these humanoids should give respect to the privacy of the user and not record video, audio or any other personal information of the user. Learn more.

Legislative issues: Law for robots is emerging as a new form of law which establishes guidelines on the ethical and logical use of robots. Liability for defective robots, product liability and the damages they cause, protecting intellectual property (or innovations) about robots are certain concerns in this field. In addition to this, there are claims for a robot to have its own rights. Hence the Legal issues, Cybersecurity and Policy for robots needs to be considered.

Are they safe: Frankenstein complex is a term Issac Asimov had coined for the fear of these mechanical humans. Many people, including me, could relate to this and it is a factor that needs to be taken care of while designing and building more powerful and intelligent robots. Robots should be given the power to create and build and not to exterminate and destroy. Trust has to be built among the users before humanoid robots can play a major role in our lives. Learn more about The 10 Grand Challenges Facing Robotics in the Next Decade.

Conclusion

Humanoid robots are one of the most promising fields in robotics with great scope in future. With the look and feel of human beings, they’re tipped to replace humans in varied fields in the world. Various dull jobs such as data entry, librarians, receptionists, sewer management and jobs that could be automated such as tax preparation, tele-marketing can be done by robots. However, there is no need to have Frankenstein's complex as a robot is only good if it serves a human.

The status of humanoid robots is in a grave state as they are of the same intelligence or even lesser than a Siri or an Alexa. They could be interpreted as humanoids with the body of a 20 year old and the brains of a 2 year old. “Beauty with brains” would not surely be an understatement here. The robots are built for their specific purposes and are not given Artificial Intelligence as the name suggests.

It is believed that humans and machines will merge after a point called singularity. I think the robots would think and act better when they are given a general knowledge rather than a conceptual one and when this happens, we can surely look forward to robots thinking more like humans than ever and hopefully achieve the concept of singularity.

Are you inspired by this article and want to learn how to build robots? Join the Rancho Labs’ Robotics Online Summer Camp.

Vignesh Hariharan

The author is a student of SSN College of Engineering pursuing his Bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering. He is a Product Management and Cloud Computing enthusiast. Passionate about Football and watching Manchester City play. Loves to read Agatha Christie and other thriller novels. He writes on Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Space Science for Rancho Labs.