Humanoid robots have come a long way in the past few years. From the incredible feats of the Boston Dynamics' running and jumping bots, to Sophia the robot becoming the first humanoid to be awarded citizenship.
The evolution and progressing of humanoid robots shows no sign of stopping, and countless scientists and research teams are busy at work on the next generation of anthropomorphic machines.
Here are just some of the projects and breakthroughs that could shape the future of humanoids as we know it.
1. The iPal: Interacting With Humans in a Friendly Way
The iPal is a humanoid robot which debuted at this year's CES. The adorable machine runs on Android, and can be used as an educational tool or as a companion for both children and the elderly.
iPal boasts a number of features that could soon become standard technologies in humanoid robots. These include multiple sensors for navigation and recognition, and a series of motors for a broad range of articulation and movement.
2. Kengoro: Sweating Like a Real Human
When we humans perform physical activities like exercise, our muscles heat up and we sweat in order to cool down. Humanoid robots also heat up when performing physical tasks, and it's important that scientists develop methods of preventing robots from over-heating.
Kengoro is a Japanese-made robot who can sweat just like a human in order to cool down. The robot seeps water through its body, which then evaporates to cool its various parts. It might seem unusual, and maybe even slightly gross, but cooling systems like these will be key in developing sophisticated humanoids.
3. WALK-MAN: Creating Safety-Conscious Tech
In disaster situations, certain tasks are simply too dangerous for humans to perform. That's why creating humanoid robots who can safely tend to urgent tasks is so important.
WALK-MAN is a humanoid created by the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, who can perform a number of tasks to both assess dangerous situations, and aid in reducing risks. In a series of trials, WALK-MAN was required to find the source of a dangerous gas leak, and quickly fix the issue. Features like these will allow the next generation of humanoids to protect humans in situations beyond our control, and to potentially save countless lives.
4. E2-DR: Saving Lives in Natural Disasters
Speaking of saving lives, WALK-MAN isn't the only humanoid paving the way for safety-conscious robots. The Honda E2-DR is specially designed to save people during catastrophic natural disasters.
The bright orange humanoid can navigate through narrow spaces, climb ladders and stairs, and remain operational throughout extreme weather changes and even up to 20 minutes of heavy rainfall.
While very much still in the experimental stages, the E2-DR marks an important breakthrough in the development of disaster response humanoids who could someday save humans in need.
5. 3D-Printed Soft Skin: Allowing for Tactile Interactions Between Humans and Robots
It might surprise you, but Disney is investing a lot of money and energy into developing some truly exciting robotic innovations. Key among these are their developments in soft robots, which seek to achieve tactile interactions between human visitors at their Disney parks and their robotic attractions.
One of the most interesting projects Disney has been behind is the development of a 3D-printed soft skin. This could allow for future humanoids to both look and feel more like real humans than ever before.
6. Fine Motor Skills: Teaching Dexterity to Robots
Sometimes the easiest things are the most challenging. If humanoids are to interact efficiently with the world around them, their dexterity has to improve greatly. The Helping Hands robotics lab is working towards teaching robots to better grip and manipulate the objects around them.
So far they've managed to teach a robot to locate and grasp unfamiliar objects with a 93% accuracy rate. Their success was the result of a great deal of work in the fields of machine learning and perception. Work like theirs will make it possible for future humanoids to complete tactile, physical tasks as efficiently as humans.
7. Mind Control: Guiding Robots With Brain Waves
Programming robots is time-consuming, laborious, and difficult. For that reason, many researchers are turning to methods of machine learning like observation in order to teach robots how to perform certain tasks.
One exciting area of research came from MIT, where a robot was instructed on how to complete its work non-verbally by reading a human's thoughts.
The robot's human companion wore an EEG cap which picked up on brain waves and communicated them to the robot. By translating the brain waves, the robot was able to understand what to do and what not to do.
Breakthroughs like these could rapidly speed up the process of teaching humanoids, and allow them to better understand humans.
8. Self-Healing Soft Materials: Fixing the Issue of Humanoid Maintenance
One issue with humanoids, as they currently stand, is maintenance. Unlike living tissue, the skins and bodies of humanoids will be subject to a great deal of wear and tear, and maintaining both their appearance and operations could potentially prove difficult and costly.
Luckily, engineers at Carnegie Mellon University have been developing self-healing synthetic skin. The skin functions almost like organic skin. It's comprised of droplets of liquid metal encased in elastomer. When the skin tears, the liquid metal droplets connect to allow electricity to pass over the tear and avoid further damage, almost like a synthetic scab.
9. Sensitive Synthetic Skin: Giving Humanoids the Ability to Feel
Self-healing skin is one way humanoids can become more like us, but they still lack the ability to feel. Well, for now at least. A team of chemical engineers from Seoul University and Stanford University have been working on a synthetic nervous system, which could allow humanoids to feel just like humans do.
The goal of the project is to someday be able to insert the synthetic nerve circuit into a robot's skin, which will give it the ability to feel different temperatures and sensations. It's complex work, but could someday result in more sensitive humanoids.
10. The Actroid: Crafting Humanoid Entertainers
Having humanoid robots to assist us in our day-to-day lives would certainly help, but it's not the only area where scientists are hoping to implement humanoid technologies. Osaka University in Japan has been developing humanoids since 2003, with the aim of creating a robot actor.
The aptly named Actroid can be taught to mimic human movements by observing a human wearing reflective dots positioned at key points of articulation. In this way, their method of learning naturalistic movements is similar to the process of motion capture animation.
The Actroid can also sense when touched, and respond accordingly to soft touches or what they perceive as a threat. Entertainment is just one of many ways that humanoids could become useful in the near future.
11. Kodomoroid: Presenting the News and Entertaining Children
Fellow Japanese-made robot, Kodomoroid, made waves back in 2014 when it read the news on live television. Kodomoroid was joined by her sister bot, Otonaroid, who suffered a bout of stage fright during their great unveiling.
Both humanoids are housed in Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where they interact with visitors and collect data on human interactions, which will allow researchers to better develop empathetic, conversational humanoids in the future.
Together with the Actroid, Kodomoroid shows a distinct trend towards incorporating humanoids into the entertainment industry, something that could become very common in the near future.
12. Nina the Robot: Learning to Communicate With Body Language
Nina the robot is more than just an adorable machine with large, child-like eyes. It's part of an effort by the French National Centre for Scientific Research's Image Speech Automatic Signal laboratory efforts to create a humanoid who can communicate in a more human manner by using eye contact and other forms of body language.
Throughout her training, Nina is accompanied by a human researcher who can wear a VR headset to see what she sees, and hear what she hears. Nina also utilizes deep learning technologies to recognize and self-correct her behaviors. Nina marks the integration of several different technologies which could result in the development of sophisticated humanoid robots in the near future.
13. The T-HR3: Teaching Humanoids Through Wearable Technology
In November of last year, Toyota unveiled their T-HR3 humanoid - a fully articulated robot that could be controlled by a human wearing a specialized set of tech. While the wearable tech looks like a fun novelty, it's actually key to helping T-HR3 reach its full potential.
Toyota envisions that the T-HR3 will become a home helper for the elderly, and that it also has the potential to aid in disaster relief measures.
While still very much in development, T-HR3 already sports some interesting features like sophisticated sensors that can determine how much force to apply when interacting with humans and objects.
14. Kuri Robot: Utilizing Facial Recognition in Humanoid Robots
Kuri was pitched as a family-friendly, domestic robot. With its minimalistic design and small stature, it doesn't appear like an obvious forerunner to hyper-realistic humanoids. But this little robot boasts an impressive level of tech.
Kuri can map its surroundings with lasers, to avoid bumping into any obstacles. It can also recognize faces, and display a small range of "emotions" through altering the shape of its eyes. These features show that smooth navigation and facial recognition are already at a stage where they can be easily implemented into humanoids, and that superficial emotional responses aren't far behind.
15. Pepper: Developing an Emotionally Intelligent Machine
Pepper is one of the most recognizable humanoids in recent years. The chatty bot has been appearing across the world, in businesses and at events, showcasing its impressive technologies.
The most notable aspect of Pepper's design is its emotional recognition. Pepper can pick up on non-verbal cues to determine the emotional state of the human it's interacting with, and adapt accordingly.
This level of synthetic emotional intelligence is of the utmost importance when envisioning humanoids of the future, who will not only have to navigate the world around them, but also the minefield that is human emotions.