April 27, 2007
Communications Dopplegangers - Robots Cut Travel Costs!
I often watch movies that I think “might” be cyberpunk in nature that end up not really fitting for one reason or another. One movie I enjoyed that fit this was the Japanese movie, Hinokio (Akiyama, 2005). In Hinokio, a robotics scientist tries to help his very disturbed son by making him a robot double who can go to school for him and interact with other students. His son is able to control all the movements of this robot, and can talk through it, etc. In the real world, Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University is working on the same concept in creating his “Geminoid” which was designed by using a model of his body and hair from his head. Many articles discussed this, here’s one:
Ever wished you could be in two places at one time? A Japanese researcher has managed it, through a robot that looks and moves exactly like him…He can see through its eyes, which act like cameras that beam images back to a monitor. Ishiguro, who moves his neck or hands to give the robot human-like twitches, is very attached to his robotic twin…
Ishiguro controls the android’s movements with a remote control and sensors attached to his body. When you poke its face, the robot grimaces like a real human, thanks to the more than 50 sensors and motors that are implanted beneath its lifelike skin. It appears to breathe when compressed air is pumped through its body.
“I don’t find any particular difference between talking through Geminoid and talking as myself,” he said. “And curiously, when the body of Geminoid is touched by somebody, I get very similar feelings of being touched.”
This approach of creating a “communications double” is far more attainable than the creation of a sentient robot. In essence, the problem has been decomposed to focusing on creating realistic human movements via messages sent from a host. While this is still an extremely difficult problem, just looking at the robots created over the last few years, they are making incredible headway.
As the Guardian write up states:
Geminoid is a modern variant on an old idea, a humanoid robot designed in his creator’s image, down to the tiniest of details. The skin tone, the spectacles, and even the lengthy hairs on its head are the same as Hiroshi Ishiguro’s, a robotics expert at the Osaka University who built his doppelganger as a stand-in for when he is otherwise engaged…
Dr Ishiguro believes robots like Geminoid will in future allow people to be where they cannot be. Speaking through Geminoid, he says, has become natural, an extension of himself.
It’s always interesting to see how these really cool technological advances are predicted to affect the world. While its certainly possible that this technology can be used to cut travel costs, one can envision a myriad of other, perhaps more important applications. If combined with, say, a really powerful VR application, you can imagine invalids traveling to the moon, for instance. Another interesting thought is the idea that combining these robots with a sort of “proto-intelligence” might allow one person to “control” a group of them. The human can pass on broad directions or program parameters, which are then acted on by the robot team.
Incidentally, in the Meatspace Forums, there is a thread devoted to the latest in robot, cyborg and transhuman innovations. Check it out!