by Jeff Eckert
Goodbye E-Harmony, Hello
Dion, from Beijing Yuanda Super
Robot Technology Co., Ltd., and
Actroid, from Kokoro Co., Ltd.
You may have noticed (or tried not
to notice) that some robots are becoming a lot more lifelike and even alluring.
One example is Dion, a Chinese babe
who is said to mimic all sorts of human
features, including facial expressions,
skin temperature and elasticity, breath,
and heartbeat. According to the manufacturer, she can even be built to resemble the specific person of your choice.
Another deliberately seductive
mechanism is Actroid DER2, developed
at the University of Osaka and manufactured by Kokoro Co. This one is
designed “to play an active part for
many occasions as a chairperson with
fluent narrations and booth bunny.” You
can even rent her for a five-day outing
for $400,000 yen (about $3,500 US).
I didn’t locate any specific information about how intimate these yum-bots are designed to be, but if you are
presently settling for a partner who
has to be inflated for each romantic
encounter, you might be interested in
a recent book by AI expert David Levy.
The good news is that it someday will
be common for people to marry and
have sex with robots. The bad news is
that Levy doesn’t expect it to be legal
and acceptable until about 2050. He
also predicted that Massachusetts will
be the first to legalize it.
If you want to follow that line of
logic, pick up a copy of Love and
Sex with Robots: The Evolution of
Human-Robot Relationships, published
late last year by HarperCollins (www.
harpercollins.com). The hardcover
edition will cost you $24.95, or you
can get the e-book for $19.95.
Arm Inspired by the
Airic’s Arm, perhaps the most
realistic robotic arm yet.
Photo courtesy of Festo Corp.
Ever since the Barrett Hand —
a three-fingered manipulator used
extensively by NASA — was introduced in
1997, mechanical arms have grown more
dexterous and complex, but still haven’t
looked or operated that much like the
human counterpart. But an eerily lifelike
one, even without any skin covering, has
been brought to us by Germany’s Festo
Corp. ( www.festo.com).
The company is known primarily for
its pneumatic and electromechanical
systems, components, and industrial
controls. But perhaps its most interesting
accomplishment is the creation of Airic’s
Arm. Based on the real thing, it even has
metal versions of the radius and ulna, the
metacarpals, and the shoulder and
shoulder blade. One big difference, however, is that it is powered by 30 of Festo’s
“Fluidic Muscles,” which are tubes of
elastomer reinforced with aramide fibers.
When you fill one with
compressed air, its diameter increases
and its length shortens, thus creating
movement. This actually gives Airic
an advantage over the rest of us:
When the arm contracts, it doesn’t
require any additional power to stay
contracted; that is, it can lift something and hold it in place indefinitely.
Festo intends to further develop
the system by adding vision and tactic
sensors and maybe even giving it a
neck, a back, and a hip. A short video
of the thing in action is presently at
Feeding Robot for the
The My Spoon™ feeding apparatus.
Photo courtesy of SECOM Co.
On a more specialized level is the
My Spoon feeding robot manufactured
in Tokyo by SECOM Co., Ltd. Designed
to allow victims of spinal cord injuries,
muscular dystrophy, and other disabili-ties to feed themselves without a care-giver’s assistance, it offers interchangeable controllers and utensils, and a
selection of operating modes to accommodate different disability levels. It’s not
quite up to the flexibility of a humanoid
hand in that foods must be served from
specific divisions of a meal tray, and they
must be in bite-sized pieces.
Both users and therapists seem to
be praising its effectiveness, and it was
even nominated as a finisher in the Top
10 Robots listed by Japan’s Ministry of
8 SERVO 01.2008