Robots That Jump

Robot Bodies Needed Before Robot Minds

Robots That Jump – Historical – Apr 13, 2004

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The real vs. the unreal
Two interesting movies of humanoid robots are available on the web today. The first is of Sony’s QRIO robot conducting a symphony orchestra to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, 1st movement. The movement and fluidity of the robot are amazing. Most importantly, it is a real robot. Currently, you can see the video via RealVideo at this link.

The second video shows a humanoid police robot “on patrol” in a dangerous-looking Third-World city getting in gunfights. This video may be viewed at Tetra Val. The movement and fluidity of this robot is amazing. Most importantly, it is a fake robot.

The distinction is important. One robot is real and one is not. What is the real one doing? Conducting an orchestra – something that was never even dreamed of in 50 years of Hollywood robot films. Reality trumps fantasy. What is the fake one doing? Being a scary Frankenstein robot – like every other robot fantasy of the last 50 years.

Which of these do I believe? Amazingly, many people will take the fantasy film as “proof” that robots are dangerous, and not be impressed by the movie of the real Sony QURO. What an incredible up-ending of logic.

In all probability, the real Sony QRIO tells us something about the future. We can look at it and predict that in a few years, little gnomelike robots will be running around entertaining us.

In contrast, the fake robot tells us nothing. For one thing, as pointed out by Marshall Brain’s weblog, a real security robot would not have a human head with two eyes – instead it would have dozens of eyes looking in every direction at once. The fake robot in the movie above moves its head to show human intent, and tells us nothing more than any other movie character. It also shows incredible intelligence, and can engage in gunfights and be repaired quickly. Real robots are very fragile and this is unlikely to change quickly. In fact, the fake robot has delicate neck struts. Comeon! This is artistic, not related to reality. It would be easy to knock its head off. Also, during the movie, someone talks about how the robot never gets tired. At present, slowly walking humanoids have power supplies lasting less than an how. How does the phony robot get its power? This, of couse, is something they’ll just “figure out.” I suspect that a robot that could jump tirelessly for longer stretches than a human would need nuclear power to work. Is this likely? Finally, the robot is easily repaired in an environment that looks like a second-rate auto body after being shot. Does the mean the robot is simple?

Not only is the robot fake, it is utterly unrealistic at almost every level.

Consider the phony robot’s mission as a cop. The reason the “Third World” envrionment looks scary is that it is very difficult for a human-level intelligence to handle such situations. A robot would have to be at least as smart as a human, if not smarter, to move in these environments. This is a loooonnnnnggggg ways off.

The real reason the fake robot exists is to stir up our emotions. The robot is just a costumed stand-in for a bad cop, one that polices a group of downtrodden people in the service of an evil corporation or empire. One could have a caveman, evil parrot, vampire, or demon recruited from the nether depths replacing the phony robot in this movie and get the same effect. The robot is nothing but a shell for a (pseudo) political statement.

(yawn).

In fact, the politics is just secondary to the real reason for making a phony robot video – to show off the special effects of a company called The Embassy Visual Effects They are just showing how good their virtual world generation abilities are, and how nicely they can blend in a non-existent fantasy robot with video footage. It (I repeat again) has nothing to do with real robots.

I’m certain that the designer staff at the Embassy doesn’t have a clue about the capabilities and limitations of real robots, much less any connection to the emerging robotics revolution. But they do have 3D Studio Max and Maya software. Sadly enough, their Flash web programming (with its “mystery meat” navigation characteristic of Web Pages That Suck) leaves something to be desired…

“Ooooooo…But couldn’t robots do this someday?”

I suppose so – but I look to real robots like the QRIO conducting a symphony orchestra to make my predictions, rather than a fantasy film designed to get design jobs for a graphics company. I would ask the people at Sony who developed the QRIO, not the ad agency people at The Embassy about the robotic future. One had done something real, another has re-hashed a long-standing fantasy in cyberspace. One has demonstrated a robot that jumps, the other doesn’t even know what a robot is…

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