Sony has developed small but remarkable robots that can dance and sing for entertainment purposes.
Like never before, technology can bring imagination to life. The question is what will we conceive? For decades, popular culture has been enthralled with the possibility of robots that act and look like humans. We are promised by film, fiction and television that humanoids will cook for us, clean for us, become our best friends, teach our children, and even fall in love with us. So where are they? The forerunners are here already. Recently, the media has covered a surprising number of new humanoid robots emerging on the commercial market. Like many new technologies, these early generations of commercially available humanoids are costly curiosities, useful for entertainment, but little else. Yet, in time, they will accomplish a wide variety of tasks in homes, battlefields, nuclear plants, government installations, factory floors, and even space stations.
Robonaut: A robot developed at NASA Johnson Space Center to inhabit the space station.
Humanoids will exhibit emotion, forge relationships, make decisions, and develop as they learn through interaction with the environment. Robots that can incrementally acquire new knowledge from autonomous interactions with the environment will accomplish tasks by means their designers did not explicitly implement, and will adapt to unanticipated circumstances of unstructured environments. Already, humanoid robots can autonomously perform task decomposition necessary to carry out high-level, complex commands given through gesture and speech. Humanoids can adapt and orchestrate existing capabilities as well as create new behaviors using a variety of machine learning techniques. In fact, some researchers claim to have implemented a first stab at the "seed" which will allow robot intelligence to develop indefinitely. As they adapt to their own, unique experiences with the world, we will look out upon a population where no two humanoids are exactly alike.
Humanoids may prove to be the ideal robot design to interact with people. After all, humans tend to naturally interact with other human-like entities; the interface is hardwired in our brains. Their bodies will allow them to seamlessly blend into environments already designed for humans. Historically, we humans have adapted to the highly constrained modality of monitor and keyboard. In the future, technology will adapt to us. Undoubtedly, humanoids will change the way we interact with machines and will impact how we interact with and understand each other.
Humanoid Robotics also offers a unique research tool for understanding the human brain and body. Already, humanoids have provided revolutionary new ways for studying cognitive science. Using humanoids, researchers can embody their theories and take them to task at a variety of levels. As our understanding deepens, we will be prompted to freshly reexamine fundamental notions such as dualism, will and consciousness that have spurred centuries of controversy within Western thought.
This site traverses a wide variety of Humanoid Robotics projects throughout the world, explaining the diverse goals of the field and why humanoid robots are uniquely suited to meet these goals. As we review successes and failures in the field, we provide a contextual backdrop for understanding where humanoid research began, the dilemmas it currently struggles with, and where it may take us in the future. Imagination is the bow from which the technology, science and art of Humanoid Robotics takes flight. As we try to discern where the bow is aimed, the paper also asks whether we are ready for the changes that will follow.