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The World with Man-like Robots

Robots have been a part of our imagination about the future and science fiction for quite some time. Thanks to continuous robotic research, they’ve grown beyond a mere subject of study and have made their way into our lives. The news that Google recently bought robot companies such as Shaft and Boston Dynamics shows just how far robots have come. Today, we’ll learn about how robots are being developed these days.

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Robot industry in spotlight (Source: http://notsostatist.com)

Moving robots: Stickybot

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘robot’? Mine was a robot with a human form, like in ‘Terminator’ and ‘Iron Man’. The most common robots in the industrial world, however, are ones that ‘assemble and tighten screws on cars and cell phones.’ These robots don’t have eyes or fingers and are connected to the ground, yet they work very accurately.

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Robots on the assembly line (Source: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2013/07/18-gorgeous-images-of-job-stealing-factory-robots/)

One incident which changed the robot trend entirely was the Fukushima nuclear accident. Although they had highly advanced robots, they couldn’t help around the scene of the disaster because they weren’t designed to move around. Now many researchers are actively working on producing moving robots. We also noticed this change from the interview with Prof. Sang-Bae Kim from the MIT Biomimetics lab. He says he gets inspiration for his robot designs from nature.

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Prof. Kim and Stickybot, a lizard shaped robot

As everything in nature has evolved for millions of years for survival, Prof. Kim believes that there’s much to learn from the natural world. Thinking about designing wings for flying objects based on birds, it’s easy to understand this principle. Let’s take a look at a lizard robot, Stickybot, then.

Geckos are creatures that climb steep rocks and trees very easily, like Spiderman climbing buildings. We can see how this works by looking at the soles of their feet.

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Soles of a Gecko’s feet
(Source: http://i1-news.softpedia-static.com/images/news2/A-Step-Toward-Gecko-Glue-2.jpg)

As you see from the picture above, Geckos have lots of wrinkles on their feet and when you look closer, these wrinkles are made of fibers as thin as human hair. Such a structure gives directional adhesion. Take a look at this video if you want to see the Stickybot which was made with nature’s inspiration.

Video footage on Stickybot

Isn’t it amazing? Man never would’ve dreamed of flying if they hadn’t seen flying birds, and the Wright brothers wouldn’t have been able to build their plane either. Although mechanical numbers and mathematical formulas are important, it is nature which shows us what to imagine. This is why we get excited about revolutionary robots.

Robots Communicating with Humans: Travis

As robots get more and more like humans, ‘emotions’ are becoming a necessary part of their design. How can emotions, which cannot be written with numbers, be applied to robots? Prof. Guy Hoffman from IDC Media Innovation Lab in Israel and his robots give us some clues on this.

In order to build a robot that can communicate with humans, Prof Hoffman came up with one question: ‘Don’t we understand human nature better through technology that isn’t perfect?’ What is your thought on this? I could clearly understand what he meant by this. Sometimes you feel more attached to an almost broken mini electric fan which stops working from time to time than robots that work with precision in factories. There are now many researchers working on ‘human emotions in robots’ these days.

Video footage on Travis

The robot in the video footage is called Travis. It looks at the smart phone once they’re connected to each other. The fact that the robot is actually looking at it gives a more apparent impression than a simple message saying ‘connected’. It also looks at the person when the phone and the robot are disconnected, like it can exchange feelings with humans. This actually seems much more emotional than Siri’s robotic speech.

LG CNS’s Role in the Developing Robot Industry

As we saw earlier, robots are not just machines anymore and they’re going through changes like learning how humans react. What is LG CNS doing, then, in this fast growing robot industry? They play their role by providing ‘interactive panels’.

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Pepper, an emotion recognition robot
(Source: http://techneedle.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/pepper_robot.jpg)

The picture above shows Pepper, the world’s first personal robot that recognizes emotions, which became a sensation in June. It was developed by Soft Bank Mobile from Japan and Aldebaran Robotics from France, and it features an interactive panel that LG CNS provides. This panel is in charge of the face-to-face communication between man and robot. It is similar to a tablet computer, but it is optimized for robots taking account of their own movement, operation systems, and interface.

Today, I’ve explained how robots are changing. The robot industry is in the limelight since the speed of technological development is rapidly increasing. Robots will soon be able to communicate with the world and act like humans. I think the day where we actually live with these robots may even come before 2050.

성재호

LG CNS has organized a support program that enables university students interested in IT to write news articles related to the field. This article is one that was written under the program.

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