We cover a lot of robots here on Fast Company, sometimes exciting tech, sometimes promising for health care, or the future of daily life...and sometimes outright creepy. The latest Japanese android is firmly in this category.
She's a product of the Intelligent Robotics lab at Osaka University and robot builders Kokoro Co. Ltd., and she's dubbed Geminoid F (the "f" is for female.) And all that use of the word "she" is justified, as the bot is quite definitely convincingly female--which technically makes her a gynoid rather than an android. All this super realism is because she's modeled after a real twenty-something Japanese woman--on the right in that image above--via a sophisticated scanning system. Silicone realistic skin, convincing hair, and teeth that seem so real they make Geminoid F have a nearly human smile. Add in subtle movements, driven by a batch of servos, that give the robot the ability to raise an eyebrow, or mimic those tiny tics that our fallible flash-and-blood bodies get up to all the time without us realizing, and you've got a machine that is freakishly real. She truly delves into that uncanny valley between detectably artificial and undetectable human-mimicing.
So what's the purpose of all this weird aping of reality? Partly it's because it's easy to develop a more trusting relationship with something that has a face--it's why people find it easy to love dogs and cats but turtles and spiders are harder to think about in the same anthropomorphizing way. The team behind this robot think she'll work fabulously in roles like receptionist at a museum. And they're probably right. It'll be a while 'til the tech is advanced enough and portable enough to re-skin robots like ASIMO...but probably not as long as you think. And that speediness is reflected in the fact that you'll be able to buy a Geminoid F of your own next month for around $110,000.
But if super-real robots aren't your thing, or you're in denial that your daily life isn't going to be touched by this sort of tech soon, then check out this other innovation: A "wearable" augmented reality robot. This is also a Japanese creation, coming from assistant professor at Toyohashi University of Technology, and it's designed to inject the missing "sensations" into cross-Internet communications.
Revealed this weekend at the very first Augmented Human International Conference in France, the "iFeel_IM!" robot takes the form of a kind of "suit" that's essentially sensor and servo-laden straps that are wound around the wearer's body. The system can measure what the wearer is doing in terms of movement, and can deliver sensations back from a remote user also wearing a robo-suit, in the form of flutters down your spine or even warmth. Confusing? Well, the simplest way to explain it is as a way of replacing emoticons--if you're far away from your partner, but Skyping them or IMing to keep in touch, then it'd be nice to feel a hug in some way, instead of just reading an emoticon.
The remote future of this sort of tech is for all-immersive AR or virtual reality system that makes the virtual world a more total-body experience. Think of sci-fi precedents like the VR in Matrix or the gargoyles in Snow Crash, and you'll see what I mean. There's also the question of teledilonics to ponder on... The robotic future is coming, mankind. Soon.
To keep up with this news and more like it, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. I'm a real person, by the way. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too.