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Surprising Science

Where Are All the Humanoid Robots?

We were promised Jetsons-style helpers but all we have is a big hockey puck that vacuums hardwood floors. Will inventors ever create great humanoid robots? If they do, will we accept them?

What’s the Latest Development?

At the InnoRobo robotics conference, held this month in Lyon, France, the next wave of human helpers were on display but there were still no Jetsons-style, humanoid gabbers and dishwashers. Instead, the human-shaped robots were more likely to act as friendly interfaces to information and technology. A Japanese robot, which looked like a baby seal, is meant to help patients with dementia. “You can stroke it and it responds, you can teach it its name, and it will respond to care and affection and likewise shy away from poor treatment.” 

What’s the Big Idea?

Will humanoid robots ever become reality? Probably not in the way science fiction writers have imagined them. The human form is ill-suited to performing repetitive tasks like assembling machines or washing dishes, and those are precisely the kind of actions we are most likely to ask of our robot friends. Beyond how they function, psychology is at play in human-looking robots. “If it gets too human-like, people are very fearful,” said Uwe Haass from the Cognition for Technical Systems at Munich’s technical university. 

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