Will humanoid robots
conquer the earth?

Hum... Difficult question... Let's see what humanoid robots can do right now, first. You may think they can do a lot of things, because you saw an awesome video the other day with the Toyota partner robot running like a real human. Or you are sure they can't do anything: if they could, they would be everywhere on the street like in the movies I, Robot or Star Wars.

Well, whatever your answer, you are kind of right... But also kind of wrong...

The truth is, there is a big void between what simple humanoid robots can do (for about 1000 dollars) and what the top robots from robotics research can do.

Also, while the androids used to be all male or without clear gender, passionate hobbyists and researchers are starting to build female robots, also known as gynoids, or fembots.
Click here to learn more about Fembots.

But first, let's cover the basics.

1) What is a humanoid robot?

Asimo is your friend.
Image from Honda News/Flickr
Honda Robot Asimo

Here is a definition: a humanoid is a robot that looks like a human, which means it has two feet, two arms and a head all linked to the trunk. A semi-humanoid refers usually to a robot with a human trunk and arms, but with wheels or 4 legs instead of 2 legs.

From this point, there is huge variety of robots that qualify as humanoid robots. From the robotic clone of a Japanese scientist to the small toy robots like Robosapien. Here is a list of androids as diverse as possible:

  • Geminoid and Geminoid-F are two Japanese humanoid robots created to look as much as possible like their models.
  • HRP-4C is a fembot with an iron body and a female face. The female robot has danced in pop show during a recent demo.
  • Asimo and Toyota partner robots that have a human shape but look like robots.
  • Kojiro is a humanoid whose purpose is to study the use of cables to simulate muscles.
  • Until now, they were all Japanese, but Nao and iCub are both European robots meant to look like kids.
  • One of my favorite is Robonaut, a NASA robot meant to work on the ISS, and maybe to conquer the Moon.

There are a lot more humanoid robots. But most of them will somehow look like one of the above. The main categories are human-like robots, fembots, small humanoids, research robots and semi/full humanoids.

Humanoids are not cyborgs. A cyborg is a living thing (human or animal) which has been modified with robotic parts. It is one of the application of robotics, though. For example, exoskeletons and bionic hands are products of research about human robots.

Click here to learn more about Robonaut, the Humanoid Robot in Space.

Click here to learn more about one of the most advanced robot: the Honda Robot Asimo.

To learn more about the applications of robotics to help people, here is a page about the HAL Robotic Exoskeleton.

2) Can I have my own humanoid robot?

me taking care of Nao humanoid robot

You can, but it may not be very interesting yet. For 100 USD, you can get something like Robosapien that can do a lot of funny movements and sounds. You can also get the Bioloid hobby robot for 1000 USD. This one can actually take any shape, because it is made of standard building blocks that can be reorganized as you like. Both will require some good programming skills or at least the motivation to learn to get the most out of it.

In 2012, there should be the Nao robot from the French company Aldebaran Robotics that will become open to the public. If it works well, it should come with a whole set of behaviors that will make him your best friend soon enough. I have one myself as a "Nao developer", and it is not ready for the public yet. But I am confident that it will replace the best-seller Aibo dog robot. It should cost between 2500 and 3500 USD when it goes on market, though there is nothing official about this price.
Find more about Nao on this page.
And if you want your own Nao, discover the Nao Developer Program here.

All these robots are small toy robots (around 50 cm high). The full grown maid robot is not for now, but may be available next decade. There are strong incentives too develop such robots in Japan and Korea in particular. So be a little more patient.

And from 2015, Pepper will be available to the public in Japan first. For about $2000, it will be your perfect home robot companion.

Find more about the Pepper Robot here.

3) Humanoid Robots and Artificial Intelligence: will robots replace us?

Humanoid Robots in research: HRP-2

As robots are being developed, there is always the worry that they will take our place, or become more intelligent than us. But is there any clue today that Artificial Intelligence will make better machines soon?

The truth is, we are very far from getting a robot able to live in human centered environment. Even as they have super human ability (repeating a movement exactly, math computing and others), androids lack the basic abilities of learning and abstracting problems. They can only do what they were specifically told to.

But on some other fields, robots are making very good progress. Scientists in MIT, for example, have created robots able to show emotions. While these robots are just emulating human features, it may prove valuable for communication. Indeed, speaking is not just about language, there is a lot of body language and emotion that are part of it.


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Incredible fembots


The Nao Humanoid robot

Cute Nao


HAL Exoskeleton

Helpful Exoskeleton