Technology January 10, 2013
Hey Look At This Adorable Baby Robot! Oh, Wait, It's Terrifying

Check out this video of Diego, a giant robot baby. On the one hand, it's an amazing achievement in robotics. On the other hand, it's really creepy-looking.

We're not sure how to feel.

David Hanson, a former Disney employee turned roboticist, builds robots at the University of San Diego's Machine Perception Lab with expressive faces that can mimic human emotions. And Hanson has some big ambitions for his work.

As he put it in a 2009 Ted Talk, "the goal here is to achieve sentience in machines, and not just sentience, but empathy."

Diego is his latest project. The robot is supposed to be a giant baby - it stands four feet three inches tall, and weighs 66 pounds - and is capable of simulating the reactions of a real child.

The bot has high-definition cameras in its eyes, allowing it to "see" people's expressions and react to them via software that's modeled on the behaviour of human babies.

According to the video description, "the facial expressions are important to establish a relationship, and communicate intuitively to people."

Hanson built Diego's head, which contains about 27 moving parts, while the body was created by Kokoro Co. Ltd.

Part of the funding for the project came from the U.S. National Science Foundation, which is working to encourage research into artificial intelligence and human-robot interaction.

In case you're wondering whether Hanson's ever heard of the Terminator, he says he's doing this work precisely to avoid a bleak future where humans and robots can't get along.

"Machines are becoming devastatingly capable of things like killing," he said at his Ted Talk. "Those machines have no place for empathy. There's billions of dollars being spent on that. Character robotics could plant the seed for robots that actually have empathy."

Well, let's hope he's right. Because if giant robot baby Diego turned out evil, it seems like no one would be safe.

Check out David Hanson explaining his philosophy of robot empathy at his Ted Talk below:

And here's video of another one of his projects, modeled on Albert Einstein:


Robot Throws First Pitch

Can This Robot Help Some Kids With Autism Form Stronger Bonds With People?

Robots are Doing it For Themselves



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