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Team Aims To Build Robot Toddler In Nine Months

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the it's-a-robot dept.

Robotics 114

Zothecula writes "If robots are going to be part of our everyday lives, they'll need to fit into our homes rather than the factory floor. Few people would be comfortable living with a metal spider on tank treads, so the University of Zurich's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is building a robot toddler called 'Roboy.' Using 'soft robotics' technology that mimics the human body, the 1.2 meter (3 ft, 11 in) tall humanoid robot is part of an effort to make robots that people are more comfortable with in day-to-day situations."

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114 comments

9 Months? No way. (5, Funny)

ashshy (40594) | about a year ago | (#42433451)

Give me nine female robotic engineers -- I need that baby in a month!

Re:9 Months? No way. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433643)

Don't forget the robot diapers! That oil discharge has to go somewhere.

Re:9 Months? No way. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434147)

That oil discharge has to go somewhere.

Is it English?

Failing (2)

HaZardman27 (1521119) | about a year ago | (#42433461)

That thing looks far more terrifying than a metal spider on tank treads.

Re:Failing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433529)

And, according to their diagrams, it's connected to Facebook. Why don't they just pack it full of C4 and have it continuously say "remote detonators are your friends"?

Re:Failing (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about a year ago | (#42433869)

If they want it to fit in, they'll need to focus on the drug-addled freak market.

For me, I'll take the treads, topped by a miniature refrigerator w/ice dispenser, small bookshelf, gaming console, and a dispenser of toilet paper

Re:Failing (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#42434545)

What's so wrong with a metal spider on tank treads anyway? If anyone doesn't want a tachikoma I'll gladly take it off their hands.

Robot invaders (4, Insightful)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about a year ago | (#42433469)

Making robots that look like humans do not make people more comfortable... It freaks them out.

Re:Robot invaders (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433805)

"Sir, the Uncanny Valley isn't deep enough!"
"Then start digging!"

Re:Robot invaders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434093)

This is ZPG [imdb.com] all over again!

Re:Robot invaders (2)

AwesomeMcgee (2437070) | about a year ago | (#42434175)

Seriously, where did these guys get this idea in their head? Do they honestly believe what they're saying or are they just fooling with people saying these things with the eventual goal of really screwing with people when they actually create the thing. I mean, if I could do it, I would too, just to mess with people. But I would have no allusions that it would be beneficial in the least towards the ends they're talking about.

Re:Robot invaders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434291)

Perhaps it's simply the following: The engineers have no problems with any form of robot, with or without treads, tentacles, and uncanny valley faces. Why would they? It's their job. So they don't know why suburban housewives are uncomfortable with robots. So they assume that the problem is "robots don't look enough like people." It makes a sort of sense, and it's correct to an extent, but it won't really sell robot babies.

I don't actually believe that's what happened, however. Nobody who understands the concept of Uncanny Valley would ever come up with this idea.

Re:Robot invaders (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42434487)

Agreed, this has to be aimed at the toy market, or the self centered parent market looking for a playmate for their real child, or to substitute for that real child they haven't got time to actually have.

Childless couples are already unable to distinguish their dogs from children. This will go further to enhance that psychosis.

Re:Robot invaders (2)

AwesomeMcgee (2437070) | about a year ago | (#42435279)

As someone with one child who wishes he could have another, that whole "My dog is my child" thing effing creeps me out. Seriously, that is jacked. Perhaps you're right, the type of folks who are emotionally lost enough to attribute their dog as their child would also be happy to attribute it to a robot... Though for the rest of us, the uncanny valley is a trainwreck.

Re:Robot invaders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434787)

It's called a valley because as things get more human-like, first there's a strong positive reaction, followed by a strong negative reaction, followed by a strong positive reaction again. This robot is standing very firmly in the first positive section.

More what? (5, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#42433475)

In what way excactly do we need to become MORE comfortable with machines than we are now?

Has driving a car, warming food in a microwave, and allowing a roomba to vacuume my floors not enough? None of these make me uncomfortable, despite their lack of human interface. Why should other forms of purpose built machines, or even general purpose, suddenly need to be humanoid?

Don't get me wrong, its cool research, and it could yield some interesting results but... as something required to make us more comfortable with machines? Nah, not unless you mean having sex with machines or something.... even that we already have people quite comfortable with some rather non-human form mimicing products.

Re:More what? (2)

KevReedUK (1066760) | about a year ago | (#42433711)

...unless you mean having sex with machines or something....

In which case, the suggestion of modelling robots on toddlers is even more discomforting!

Re:More what? (2)

aicrules (819392) | about a year ago | (#42433957)

there are a lot of people who will continue to react towards technology in general with a skeptical and very negative attitude. There are still people today who think a microwave is scary. However, as the devices become more prevalent, and as more of them assume more autonomous capabilities, each new generation will be less and less likely to hold prejudice against robotic humanoids. Prejudice as has been explored in such science fictional characters as Data and iRobot also helps society understand that potential before it actually happens. There are likely still numbers of people in the billions who would be extremely uncomfortable, many to the point of violent action, with the creation of a very human-like artificial lifeform that for many purposes replaces a human.

Re:More what? (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42434617)

Prejudice as has been explored in such science fictional characters...

Prejudice is a odd choice of words, and suggests you've already equated (non-existent) robots with humans in your mind.

That is exactly what sane people fear. That tech-enthusiast will decide that robots are people too. Laws will be passed. And when a human no longer serves any purpose to anyone else, they will be "decommissioned" and "parts-ed out".

Once you decide machines are the same as you, you've disavowed your own human-ness, and accepted the fact that you are just another purpose built device which no intrinsic or unique value.

I guess if that's how you feel, the best that humanity could do to preserve the human race is to parts you out before you replicate.

Re:More what? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about a year ago | (#42435075)

I'd say you have the wrong fear here. At the moment our robots can even conceive "decomissioning" people, we'd have already lost. If people accept they as equals or not won't change a thing.

But then, yes, those people that think about robots the same way they think about live beings disturb me too... And there are lots of people that are able to program a computer, but won't see why it's different from an animal.

Re:More what? (2)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42435303)

In general, I agree, but robots don't have to "conceive" of decommissioning people in order to be dangerous.

The default state in robots is that they have no concept of saving human life. You virtually never see humans working near robots [hyperwrite.com] in industry, its just too dangerous.

So we have the opposite of "conception" as the default, and nobody seems to worry about mandating safety of life as the starting point, or even recognizing it as a need, except when reading science fiction, where is is merely hand-waved into existence. Industrial systems today rely on humans shutting off the robots when there is a need to approach them, not the other way around.

The military is actually ahead of industry in this regard. The US Defense department is worried that autonomous weapons might be developed with no human decisions in the loop, and has preemptively banned such [dtic.mil].

Re:More what? (3, Interesting)

bmo (77928) | about a year ago | (#42435897)

>The default state in robots is that they have no concept of saving human life. You virtually never see humans working near robots [hyperwrite.com] in industry, its just too dangerous.

Bullshit.

Not everything is an industrial welding cell.

People use robots all the time, but we don't call them robots. We call them CNC machine tools, which is just semantics. They are as robotic as anything colloquially called a "robot." Turret presses are robots too. Nearly every industrial tool is a robot these days, That's not to say that there aren't interlocks and guards, but we don't give machinery the wide berth that you imply. You just have to keep hands out of the work envelope and this is typically done with light curtains.

In the old days of using single stage manually operated punch presses, before my time, there would be literally leashes on one's wrists that took your hands out the of the work envelope once the switch was pressed. Indeed, I will certainly say that today's robotics are a lot safer than the cam-driven stuff of yester-year. In the old days, light curtains were science fiction, and you couldn't just instantly halt a machine tool like you can today.

But not only that, I saw a program last week about a Frito Lay plant (I believe it was in KC), and the warehouse floor was full of robotic pallet transports mingling among humans (that did surprise me)

If everything needed a "This shall not hurt humans" directive, we wouldn't even have automobiles or even bicycles.

--
BMO

Re:More what? (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#42436007)

You just have to keep hands out of the work envelope

there would be literally leashes on one's wrists that took your hands out the of the work envelope

Thanks for proving my point.

I reiterate: Industrial systems today rely on humans shutting off the robots when there is a need to approach them, not the other way around.

Re:More what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434529)

You and I, as people older than actual toddlers, are comfortable with "a metal spider on tank treads". However, my actual human toddlers probably are not okay with "a metal spider on tank treads" running around the house by itself. My 3 year old is completely freaked out by the autonomous nature of the roomba. Roboy looks like it could be a step in the right direction, at least my kids expect other humans to be autonomous.

Uncanny Valley (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433479)

If the point is to make people more comfortable, I think they may have forgotten the uncanny valley effect.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

Honestly.. would you rather have a robot that looks like a robot, or a robot that looks like a CREEPY pseudo-child?

Twiggy! Bede bede bede bede bede... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433487)

Twiggy! Bede bede bede bede bede...

Re:Twiggy! Bede bede bede bede bede... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433731)

Twiggy! Bede bede bede bede bede...

I do believe you're thinking of TWKE-4, AKA Twiki.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twiki

Re:Twiggy! Bede bede bede bede bede... (1)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year ago | (#42434067)

Twiggy! Bede bede bede bede bede...

I do believe you're thinking of TWKE-4, AKA Twiki.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twiki

The real Twiggy looks much nicer... http://www.google.com/search?q=twiggy&hl=en&safe=off&tbo=d&site=webhp&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=49DhUP60MpLD0AGrqYGIDw&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAA&biw=1067&bih=529 [google.com]

hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433495)

a robotic spider likely can do a lot more than a robotic toddler or even an adult sized robot. what we don't necessarily need is workers that can perform work that is already done even if their abilities are better we need workers that can exceed what even the most amazing person can do. maybe a spider is scary so make it a friendly octopus or something...

Re:hmm (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42433695)

maybe a spider is scary so make it a friendly octopus or something...

Bonus... if the company fails in industrial apps, its tentacle movies FTW

4 foot tall toddler? (3, Insightful)

danlip (737336) | about a year ago | (#42433551)

that's scary in and of itself

Re:4 foot tall toddler? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42435331)

How can this [imgur.com] NOT make people want to invite these things into their homes? (CAPTCHA was creeps, it's already on to us). Think of it standing over your bed, waking you up saying, "Why won't you love me?"

Re:4 foot tall toddler? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42435973)

Yeah, and when that thing throws a tantrum, it'll kill you

Sounds Simple (1)

paleo2002 (1079697) | about a year ago | (#42433607)

This sounds like a reasonable goal. If my upstairs neighbors' kid is any indication, all this toddler-bot needs to be able to do is stomp around, slam into walls, and scream at random intervals.

Re:Sounds Simple (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year ago | (#42433657)

Don't forget about playing with that spring door stopper in 10-15 minute intervals. When I use to live in apartment, I was home sick with a pounding headache, and I was tortured with Rumble Rumble Rumble from my right ear to my left back to my right. Then a Sproing ratatatata...Sproing ratatatata...Sproing ratatatata...

Re:Sounds Simple (1)

bmo (77928) | about a year ago | (#42433973)

It doesn't have to be a toddler..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aTagDSnclk [youtube.com]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lxddnv0L1uA [youtube.com]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL3vo6Weva4 [youtube.com]

Those are just a few....

--
BMO

Re:Sounds Simple (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42433719)

stomp around, slam into walls, and scream at random intervals.

Freshmen + alcohol = (see above, plus lots of vomiting)

19 yr olds pay good money for that experience. This may be a viable market niche.

SPIDERS are creepy?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433615)

> part of an effort to make robots that people are more comfortable with

In Asimov's "Caves of Steel" it is revealed that all humanoid robots on Earth must be built with a permanent smile on their face. So, this is how it begins...

Me and my wife... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433619)

did it in eight!

47 inches, really? (1)

blp (4207) | about a year ago | (#42433675)

The average 2-year-old is about 34 inches tall, plus or minus 3 inches or so. This will be the world's tallest toddler.

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433697)

1. Have sex with female
2. Wait nine months
3. Profit!!

Bang one out in a week and you'll get my attention. Right now they're tied with every redneck in WV. Go science! =)

Spider on rank tracks?! (1)

mikewilsonuk (1676196) | about a year ago | (#42433749)

WTF does a spider on tank tracks look like? I suspect it would be less creepy than a robot toddler.

Re:Spider on rank tracks?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433857)

Sounds like he was going for a tamago-- tomaguc-- tomo-- "think tank" from Ghost in the Shell.

Re:Spider on rank tracks?! (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#42434759)

Specifically the ones shown in the episode "Poker Face" where the entire last leg section was a tank tread (vs most tachikomas which use wheels on the end of the legs).

I have a toddler and I don't see how it will work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433759)

If they're looking for a robotic toddler then the algorithm used will have to be completely random and toggle between rage, affection, and despair on a minute by minute basis. An exercise in frustration.. not unlike dealing with a real toddler most of the time haha.

I would be more comfy with Johnny 5 then... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433803)

...with something mimicking human being.

That's cute (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433855)

It looks like a Terminator Mini-Me.

Easy now... (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#42433863)

> Team Aims To Build Robot Toddler...building a robot toddler
> called 'Roboy.' Using 'soft robotics' technology that mimics
> the human body, the 1.2 meter (3 ft, 11 in) tall humanoid robot
> is part of an effort to make robots that people are more
> comfortable with in day-to-day situations.

I'm going to guess one of it's first uses will be a situation that people are less comfortable with.

What could possibly go right? (1)

russotto (537200) | about a year ago | (#42433871)

I see two ways this could go wrong (assuming it works at all) -- the toddler robot could fall into the uncanny valley and cause revulsion. Or, it could mimic a toddler well enough to cause the normal reactions people have to toddlers not their own -- annoyance, irritation, revulsion, anger, etc.

Re:What could possibly go right? (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about a year ago | (#42434151)

Or, it could mimic a toddler well enough to cause the normal reactions people have to toddlers not their own -- annoyance, irritation, revulsion, anger, etc.

Maybe it's just the dad in me, but after having kids my reaction to other peoples' toddler is "how cute", "awwww", or (if they are misbehaving) an understanding nod and "boy, have I been there!"

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433883)

They want to create a robot to make people more comfortable with these machines...and they come up with a giant robotic skeleton baby. Who gave these people money?

18yo female (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433899)

I think there would be a lot more interest in a 18yo female model. There is already a company making the silicone forms. They just need a 'Borg' style recharger built in, a computer, some type of fans that exhaust hot air through the mouth once every 2-5 seconds. Then build up a aluminum I-Beam type frame with servos and actuators. Have the computer software 'learn' how to walk by figuring out what works and what doesn't, and then doing what works.

It's not People... it's Women..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433915)

Men don't have a problem with robots in the home (See "Cherry 2000" as a reference)

It is largely women who are uncomfortable.

Why a Toddler? (1)

lobiusmoop (305328) | about a year ago | (#42433921)

Don't understand this part - there should be no more effort involved to scale the size up really. The world has been moulded around the adult body, this robot would have the same amount of hassle in it as somebody suffering from dwarfism.

does it wash windows? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42433935)

i don't care what it looks like, if it doesn't wash windows and vacuum the floor i'm not interested.

I think this summery misses the point (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#42434155)

Robots only get creepy when they look like us. No one finds an auto vacuum freaky or uncomfortable to live with. But if it looked like a toddler and went around saying "Hello, Dave", it would be very freaky and uncomfortable.

It's a strange choice. (1)

westlake (615356) | about a year ago | (#42434189)

I think a familiar - abstracted - animal form - aka a pet -- would be a better idea. The human toddler is physically awkward and vulnerable. It needs constant attention. That is not the image you want to project with a household robot.

The clockwork pet has been a staple of science fiction and fantasy for generations.

"Bleeker, The Rechargeable Dog," for example, is a web comic that went into global print circulation through KIng Features, along with Beetle Bailey and a hundred or so other strips that have been around since the dawn of time.

The technical problems are much easier to solve, and there are no cultural or psychological barriers to acceptance.

Re:It's a strange choice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434379)

Didn't somebody already try a robotic dog? Granted, it shared more in common with an RC car than with a hypothetical android, but it was marketed just that way: a robotic pet with all of the tail-wagging and barking and none of the stained carpets and vet bills.

Re:It's a strange choice. (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about a year ago | (#42435203)

I guess they are trying to get a confortable shape for a robot with arms. That would exclude most animal forms, except for human, spider, crab or octopus-like ones. Base on our reaction to the actual animals that hold those forms, human-like is the most likely to succeed.

I think the best bet is a completely artificial shape.

It's already panhandling. (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#42434413)

"We're building a robot. Send money.".

Contributing doesn't mean you get a robot. They're only building one, not gearing up for production. There are currently at least 13 humanoid robots available for sale. The NAO NextGen [aldebaran-robotics.com] is roughly comparable to what the Zurich group is proposing. They've sold about 2000 robots.

This seems to be all about building a powered skeleton. There's no indication that they have any new ideas on how to control the thing. Tendon-driven systems are less popular than they used to be; except for robot hands, the trend is towards using small motors and getting rid of the strings and pulleys.

It's a Swiss project. I expect beautiful engineering of small parts. But if they're not going to manufacture many copies, it's wasted effort.

Isn't it bad enough that ... (1)

rnturn (11092) | about a year ago | (#42434435)

... there are predictions that robots will take most peoples' job in the not-to-distant future? Now they want to take little Johnny's job as well?

Is it anatomically correct? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434441)

If so, where can I buy one?

Does it come in black? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434499)

It would be cool to put outside as a lawn jockey!

Take that, suburban neighbors!

There will be odd nursery rhymes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42434879)

Robot toddler, sat on a wall,
robot toddler, had a great fall.
Four score men, and four score more,
did not make robot toddler gyroscopically stable.

Ring-a-ring o' roses,
a pocket full of posies,
[server translation error]
Drop down, reverse direction, increase speed,
repeat!

Lord of Entropy (1)

fritsd (924429) | about a year ago | (#42434973)

A few days ago, the Daily Slashdot Quote said "Toddlers are the stormtroopers of the Lord of Entropy".

(I totally agree with that quote BTW)
Can anyone say where that quote was from and whether robotic toddlers are the stormtroopers of the Robot Lord of Entropy, too?? Inquiring minds want to know...

Third Tri-mester (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42435031)

I hope they realize that one they are 6 months into this project, that they CANNOT stop for any reason.

Need a new plan (1)

slew (2918) | about a year ago | (#42435223)

As a parent of a 2 year old human todder, I question how common toddler features like periodic temper tantrums when things don't work out as expected will somehow be the golden sauce that "make robots that people are more comfortable with in day-to-day situations."

Perhaps they should be trying to just build "small" people rather than toddlers ;^)

9 months = amateurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42435309)

Pffft. 9 months? Amateurs. Any crack whore could do it in 8.

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42435529)

What's wrong with the house elves?

Easier way (1)

Shoten (260439) | about a year ago | (#42435919)

Just have two people with Asperger's have unprotected sex...make sure one of them is a woman...

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