Robots were designed to be helpful for us and let us save costs on labor and make entire industrial processes highly efficient.
These robots usually look either utilitarian or friendly and are easy on the eyes, but there are always exceptions.
Enter the weird side of robots, where even though most of them do groundbreaking work; they aren’t really “attractive” to look at.
This article will discuss some of those robots and will be diving deep into why humans want to see something relatable even with robots that help us with work.
Many robots fall into the uncanny valley just by how they look and make people uncomfortable, like the Motormouth KTR-2 or the CB-2.
This article explores why they look uncanny and the potential these robots have in assisting humans in various tasks.
A research team at Kagawa University in Japan had developed a robot that could speak like a human being.
It consists of a mouth with human-like lips, vocal cords, and a tongue, all made of silicone and mimics words like how a human would speak.
The robot uses an air compressor to push air through its eight silicone vocal cords that control how loud the voice is and its pitch.
The air then moves through the long mouth and is expelled to produce speech.
While the stuff the robot says is really hard to understand, the research team intended to make it to teach deaf students how to talk, and the robot is a good reference point for them to copy from.
It looks uncanny because it really shouldn’t be moving as it does, and the fact that it is just a floating mouth and is not attached to anything adds to the weird factor.
The sounds it produces are nothing like a human would produce either, with a basic nursery rhyme sounding like a broken lawnmower.
The Waseda Docomo 2, or the WD-2, is a collaboration between Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, and NTT Docomo, a large Japanese telecommunications company.
It looks like the average face is made of an elastic but somehow rigid material called Septom and has 17 different control points around its entire face.
When these control points are activated, the face can show human-like expressions and be intended to help design robots that can talk to other humans or potential customers.
While the idea is great, how the robot changes its expressions do creep people out because it doesn’t look like it’s changing expression by itself; it seems like something underneath its skin is pulling and tugging at it.
What makes this even weirder is the accompanying project that will take a 3D scan of a real human face to be sent to WD-2.
It can mimic the face from the 3D scan to a fairly accurate degree, but only enough to fall directly in the uncanny valley.
Continuing the theme, the Simroid is a realistic-looking robot from Japan that was mainly designed to help dental students practice surgical procedures.
It debuted in 2007 and was revised several times throughout its entire life cycle, constantly adding new features.
The robot simulates a human under the knife at a dentist and can move its entire body and facial features to respond to what the dentist is doing.
It can even simulate gag reflexes and other negative reactions, all recorded by two cameras.
It can also recognize what you’re saying with its speech recognition feature that they’ve added in one of the newer revisions and can understand and reply in Japanese as well as English.
The weirdest thing about it is how realistic it looks, but the skin seems awfully yellow, more than any real person’s.
The way it “expresses” itself and robotically moves its eyes and head adds to the uncanniness.
It can’t sync its lips to what it’s saying, either, so it just flaps its mouth about while its speaker plays a full sentence.
The CB2 is another robot from Japan designed to be childlike in appearance and behavior.
It emulates the thought processes and the physical abilities of a two-year-old child so that it can be used to study how robots learn and what their cognitive abilities are.
The robot simulates breathing and tracks movement around it with its eyes in its best effort to look as human as possible.
The face and other parts of the robot’s “flesh” are silicone to make its skin move just like how real human skin would.
The skin has sensors that let it know if it’s being touched and can respond if you stroke its head.
The expressions it can do are far from perfect, and the way it contorts its face to express itself is a part of the uncanny valley feeling.
All of this is done so that the robot has s great knowledge base it can build on to “grow” in an age in the future.
Even though it does help advance our understanding of how machines learn, the fact remains that this robot belongs in the uncanny valley.
Kaspar is a robot designed by researchers from the University of Hertfordshire to be a partner to children with autism and learning difficulties and make their lives a whole lot easier.
With its limited range of emotions, Kaspar acts as an intermediary between children and their parents or other adults to help with communication.
The robot can assist these children in understanding basic human emotions that they might not be familiar with or are unable to emulate.
Thanks to its simplified expressions and its responsiveness to touch, it can teach children what is socially acceptable and what isn’t
Skills that autistic children would otherwise find challenging to master, like taking turns, are made easier to learn by Kaspar since it can closely monitor how kids respond to its inputs.
Even though this robot looks more like Chucky than something that would be helpful, it does a lot of good in helping children fit into society.
The Geminoid series of robots look like a direct copy of their creators, and each one is named according to who the designers were.
The first one was designed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, who teaches at Osaka University, as part of his research into what it means to be a human.
He uses the robot as a proxy to talk through and accurately simulate breathing and natural movements like blinking.
The creepier part starts with the fact that Ishiguro used his own hair for his android, but not all of it.
The robot’s exterior features are made of silicon and look almost the real thing, but it’s simple for anyone to tell the robot and the human apart.
The Geminoid is on the farther end of the uncanny valley and looks more human-like than any robot around.
There are other Geminoid robots made after the individual researchers themselves, and all of them have added additional features to Ishiguro’s original project, like torso movements and a full beard.
With the help of natural language processing, AI, and other cutting-edge technology, Jules was designed to be a robot you could have a conversation with.
Hanson Robotics made Jules out of a patented material called Frubber, which almost looks like human skin.
Jules can display a wide range of emotions and facial expressions when talking and can track your face and eye movements with the cameras on its eyes.
Everything that Jules does has that uncanny feeling, not just because Hanson designed it to be statistically the most androgynous face but also because of its skin.
Its Frubber skin gives away the fact that it isn’t human, but at a glance, it might pass as one if you weren’t paying much attention.
The designers say Jules would make a great companion for long-term hospital patients and children who have special needs.
The Uncanny Valley: What Makes Robots Creepy?
The uncanny valley is part of a hypothesis that has plotted human emotional reaction versus an anthropomorphic robot.
As the anthropomorphism increases, there is a valley in the graph where most people tested agreed that it conveyed a strange feeling of dread or uneasiness.
The effect was likened to seeing something not alive, but it should be based on how it looks and moves.
The valley is unexpected since the familiarity of the humans with the robots as they became more human was only going up until that point.
The uncanny valley hypothesis suggests that anything that resembles a human imperfectly will cause feelings of discomfort or revulsion in a person.
This effect has been a pretty big hurdle for researchers and engineers trying to build a human-like machine, and most of the robots that this article will be talking about will inspire similar feelings in one way or the other.
How Do We Make Robots Less Creepy?
The easiest way to not make a robot a perfect example of the uncanny valley should be to stop giving it more human-like features.
Faces that look more toy-robot-like with voices that don’t sound too harsh or artificial certainly would help.
Skin is something that shouldn’t be added to robots since we know that they are robots; their skin automatically looks artificial, which can make other humans’ skin crawl.
Child-faced robots are also a good choice because of the innocence that a childlike face can inspire.
How robots emulate emotions and expressions should also be worked on to be less robotic and more natural or free-flowing.
The People Friendly Robot
The biggest winner when human-like robots go mainstream is the service sector, including hotels, restaurants, and office receptions.
But making the robots that take over those roles should be done with lots of input from multiple control groups.
Only after thorough research on a human-like model should they be made available for commercial use.
Most of the robots we saw today aren’t commercial but were developed to aid in research.
If human-like robots ever needed to capture the broader audience you would expect in a more commercial setting; they’d have to adopt friendlier or toy-like faces or be as close to humans as possible.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Could robots take over the world?
While robots might potentially have intelligence in the future with the help of AI, they are programmed to work for use.
As a result, there would be multiple fail-safes to prevent robots from turning on us.
Who is the most evil robot in film?
The evilest robot in the film could be HAL 9000, which puts humans aboard a space station in grave danger when they try to shut it off because it was malfunctioning.
Can robots cry?
Robots cannot cry or feel any other emotions like humans do, but they could in the future as AI and machine intelligence develop.
Is an android a robot?
An android is a robot, and as the name suggests, it is designed to resemble a human.
Some might have arms and legs, while some do not, but they resemble humans in one way or another.
What is Robophobia?
Robophobia, just like any other phobia, is an irrational fear of robots that is characterized by sweating, nauseating feelings, or deep hatred when the person sees a robot.