Posted by: robotnews | March 31, 2006

Humans or Robots? Can you decide?

The future of edutainment and service robots…

U0308283 Wu Chengyu

Robots are usually designed to function optimally, be it streamlined to reduce resistive forces or having extra legs for traveling on rough terrains. But come 21st century, robots today are now deployed for a new reason – to facilitate and improve communication. To achieve this goal, robots have to have a new appearance. As psychologists have shown, robots with a human-like appearance have a stronger presence and humans are more likely to interact with them. Hence, the new generation of robots is born. Humanoid robots, with appearance and behaviour similar us, are the solutions to our new needs. Indeed, should we perfect this technology, we could be looking at a whole new range of jobs robots can help us with. This would include using robots as entertainers such as actors, performers, dancers etc or in service sectors like as a receptionists or usher or in education fields as a translator or teacher. The possibilities are endless should we be able to pass robots off as a human substitute when needed. Here, let us marvel at some examples of humanoid robots that have already been tested.

Repliee Q1 & Q2
Humanoid robots Repliee Q2 and ‘her’ predecessor Repliee Q1 can be said be the closest to humans that were ever made. Whether in terms of appearance or behavior, these 2 robots were modeled as closely to humans as possible. Instead of having hard plastic as a skin, these 2 robots are made of flexible silicone to give a skin like look and texture. In addition, the two robots each have 42 actuators, allowing her to do the most minute yet smooth motions such as the fluttering of her eyelids. They can even stimulate breathing by the subtle rising and falling of their chests. Finally, these two are even programmed to shift about their positions randomly, much akin to their creators, humans. Another version of Repliees Q2 is the Repliee R1 which is modeled after a 5 year old girl instead but using the same technology.

There have been several other human-like robots like the Repliees but the most significant of them will be the ones built from the Japanese company Kokoro and Advanced Media. Called Actroids, many of them have already been employed commercially especially in service. In this newest version of Actroids, a female type reception robot has been employed in an information booth. These Actroids look very much like humans but are able to recognize and respond in up to 4 different languages, making them even better than their human counterparts.

Motion System
To achieve humanlike motion, both Repliee and Androids or humanoid robots in general use an air compressor to power their motions. Highly pressurized air is supplied to an actuator called a cylinder to move mechanical units. Generally speaking, an actuator used for heavy machinery employs hydraulic pressure instead of pneumatic one. Mounted with 42 actuators, the Repliee and Actroids are able to move very smoothly, much like a human being. Actroids are also suited with a system to control their motions such that when making conversation, they would look at the enquirer’s face and move its lips, as though pronouncing their sentences. They may even change their facial expressions or show some hand gestures according to the context of the conversation. Although to date, most humanoid robots can only sit down and move the upper part of their body. This is due to the constraint that these robots have to be attached to the air compressor, which is too large to be fitted inside her body, hence limiting her mobility.

Voice Recognition and Response System
The most challenging part of creating a practical humanoid robot for interactive purposes would be to give it intelligence to recognize speeches or questions and generate an appropriate response. Let us study one of the most advance voice recognition engine present in robots today – AmiVoice®. Developed by Japanese company Advance Media Inc, AmiVoice® is currently the voice recognition engine used by Actroids. With this engine, Actroids can effectively understand and speak up to 4 different language, namely English, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. This is done through a speech recognition check not per word, but per sentence of each speech. Such a utility is exceptionally useful when the guests could come from more many countries and hence predefining a language is unfeasible. AmiVoice® has been proven to accurately recognize the language of each person regardless of the difference in intonations and accents, high or low pitches or speaking speeds. But to be able to first hear the enquirer, Actroid must first be able to filter off the background noises and decide when someone is speaking to her. This is done also in the AmiVoice®’s noise cancellation technology which ensures the accuracy of the voice recognition. To prevent Actroid to start talking to herself, there is another echo cancellation algorithm which would prevent Actroid from recognizing and processing her own voice. Finally, as a final step to simulate humans, Actroid has a voice synthesizer system within which would generate a natural voice that’s similar to a human’s.

Here is a flowchart of Actroid’s response program.

Future Trends
Robotics today is advancing in an amazing pace. Now, there is talk of new technology there can create a fake skin for robots, giving them not only a sense of touch but also the ability to detect pressure and temperature or maybe even humility, light, strain and sound which human skin cannot sense. There is also further progress in trying to incorporate muscles into robots, hence allowing them to move much like us. These new technologies, if successful, can be added into our humanoid robot. With a sense of touch like ours and muscles to generate an even smoother motion, robots may eventually look identical to a normal human being. We may eventually find robots acting on our tv screens or standing in front of our tutorial rooms! While this may open up a wide range of uses for us, it is still quite scary should one be no longer able to tell the difference between a robot and a human. Who or what are you?




  1. wow! couldn’t tell at all the first pic whether its human or robot. looks so real…..

  2. u0204781 Peh Meng Wee

    The progress of technology is definitely astonishing. But I always wondered what are the uses of these robots. Do we use them to perform the jobs previously done by humans like receptionist. But won’t that make many people jobless. The social effect would be definitely be devastating!

  3. U0204511 Tan Chin Hiong

    Being able to recognise and speak many different languages is definitely an added advantage. Moreover, new languages can be installed on the system as add-on packages that could be very useful as a “Customer Service” robot. I have one question: Can the robot act as a translator between the sales promoter and the shopper?

  4. the female robot is so slim and well figured….

    Japan is really strong in this area. If they succeed in making robots that can respond to various environments, the old people will have somebody to take care of even Japan’s young labor market is tight. The robot will always be patient, may the olds enjoy new life style with their robot maids. But how much will it cost??? maybe too high to afford…

  5. u0308283 Wu Chengyu

    to meng wee,
    robots will definitely take away many jobs from human in the future. not only in entertainment, education and service areas, in fact they are already involved in some industral jobs nowadays.

    to Chin Hiong,
    none of the reports mentioned whether the Japanese humanoid robots can act as a translator or not, but i guess with its strong language ability, it should not have much problem for being a translator. 🙂

  6. s0500130
    It is pretty cool that the robot look almost as a human. You cant see the different.
    But was is the objective for this robot, is it to take over our work??
    Some work are good that they take over, very dangerous and hard works,i.e. working in a mine or in a manufacturing line. But take over work i.e. receptionist will just make more people jobless.

  7. u0308283 Wu Chengyu

    actually i think they will be used mainly in entertainment and educational field in the future… that is why i included this article in this entertainment and educational category. obviously, human-look is not a requirement for those dangerous jobs such as mining or exploration, but it is essential for those jobs which need interaction between robots and human.

  8. U0205183 Teo Yinling

    Its a good idea to use these robots that look like humans as entertainers. However, nothing was mentioned about their facial expressions. Do they laugh or smile like humans?

  9. u0206584-Vidhya Ganesan

    It’s indeed interesting how man tries to build machines that resemble him to the last detail!

    While I agree that robots could improve man’s quality of life manifold by serving as assistants in a variety of mundane/routine/repetitive tasks, I also feel that there still remains a long way to go before they become truly “human”.

    In other words, the mechanical aspects like fine-tuning the texture of skin, breathing patterns, movements, walking, talking etc. have been mastered to a large extent but robots still lack “common-sense”.No robot knows that you can pull something with a string but you can’t push it with a string. The average 5-year-old knows a few hundred thousand of those things and an adult a few million. Today there are only a handful of people working on commonsense reasoning, so you can’t say how long it will take before robots are truly smart.

  10. u0308283 Wu Chengyu

    yeah, of course the robots have expressions too, or else it defeats the whole purpose of having a human face right… sorry i did not state very clear in the article.

  11. U0307641 Low Youliang Freddy

    Having robots that look so real are so amazing! People would be more at ease communicating with such robots that look more life-like and i beleive they would be swarming all over the place if they were made cheaper !

  12. This robot really looks like human being. However, i don’t think it would be able to take over all the jobs from human being, especially those require human interaction, such as reception. Afterall, robot can only handle question that are preprogramed? What if the question is not phrase in a standard way (in any language)? Also the robot probabily can only give a standard answer to the standard. What if the question asked is not in the question bank?

    No matter how, i still find there’s amiss with using robot as receptionist, probabily is the sense of human touch.

  13. U0205332 Yang Shaohua

    I also saw the news report on such kinf of human-robot. Yes, It can smile,cry,….and express some simple feelings.

    Great!! and just be scared by the new technology.

  14. u0303893 Aung Myo Lwin Well, it is nice to hear about human-like robot to introduce in entertainment industry. But from the social perceptive, will there any effects on human entertainer? How about the psychology effects of a human who was entertained by robots? not all the technology advacenemnts in robotics may not offer the lives that human yearn to live in futures. The side effects of those advancements may damage the society severely. Anyway, that is my own comment. 🙂

  15. u0204593 Chiam Lee Chuan

    It would be interesting to see a robot actor. For many of us who can’t act very well, maybe someday we can model a robot with our own looks to replace us in the big screen. In that case, we can all be our own Tom Cruise and Julia Robers. That’s something worth considering….

  16. u0205391 vishal beeharry

    Wow..these robots look just like human..

    who knows..maybe in a few years…the ‘person’ sitting next to you in the mrt or in a plane is indeed a robot

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