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IRL - Robots as human as in Westworld, are coming!

The new hot series of HBO has completed the distribution of its first season, and fans are already looking for the next. We are all waiting to see our favorite “guests” again, and follow their adventures (out of the park?). But through the episodes, I always wondered : where are we exactly, in term of robotics, at the beginning of 2017 ?

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Temps de lecture : 14 min

The new hot series of HBO has completed the distribution of its first season, and fans are already looking for the next. We are all waiting to see our favorite “guests” again, and follow their adventures (out of the park?). But through the episodes, I always wondered : where are we exactly, in term of robotics, at the beginning of 2017 ?

For many years, science fiction depicted constantly futuristic robots, endowed with intelligence, conscience or feelings (good or bad) and all of this tends to give us a negative image of robotics. Because let's be honest, most of the films or series talking about that often end by a rebellion of the machines against their creators. From Metropolis (1927) to Terminator (1984), passing through Matrix (1999) and I-Robot (2004), the robots science fiction shows are all, more or less humanoid, and all, more or less, powerful (and thus able to eliminate us). In 2016, HBO showed us new robots (or hosts) in their series Westworld : robots resembling perfectly to human, endowed with intelligence, and, for some, a conscience, having been created ... just to serve fun for visitors of the amusement park in which they were placed. At the end of the series, the park's creator, Ford, has pushed many of them to a kind of rebellion, and the last scene of the first season closes on robots attacking the shareholders of the park.
Robotics is, nowadays, a developing science, but we, unfortunately, know very little about it. In fact, articles on the subject are rare, and most are written by international newspapers. Also in Europe, particularly in France, we do not really know how far scientists have moved forward or not on the subject. We know there are many robots used for aviation or industry, but we do not know what is the amount of robots more "human". Those who will, no doubt, be our companions tomorrow. Are they humanoid and to what extent? Are they marketed? What can they do exactly? Personally, I wonder if we can expect robots worthy of Westworld, within a few decades. Here is, after a long search, a quick overview of the current advance in robotics, regarding “everyday” robots ...

EDI: the magician assistant

To begin this short list, let me introduce EDI, created by Aerial Vista Laboratories. This robot, which does not really look like a human, is yet endowed with incredible intelligence, and is very close to his stage partner. It works with many magicians around the world, as it has an ability to perceive human emotions. Its main role is to pass objects to magicians during the performance, or recover those they no longer use, but also to interact with them. For example, while the magician executes programmed movements, the robot will try to perceive his sight, to maintain a certain complicity and a dynamic between them, or even to understand what the next moves of the magician will be. The creators of the little robot with a friendly appearance are also studying to what extent this robot could, in the future, be based on viewers feedback, and even interact with them.

Nao, the life companion

Nao is the first humanoid robot, and it continues to evolve since its conception in 2006. From its 58 cm, it was created by Aldebaran and is marketed by SoftBank Robotics. Over 9,000 Nao were sold in 2016 worldwide.
This time, it’s a companion robot, which, according to the website of SoftBank, is "engaging, interactive and customizable." It can, thanks to its various applications, easily adapt to the wishes of its owner, so that every experience with Nao is unique. It can obviously talk and interact with you, but also assist you every day for the most basic tasks (it only 60cm high, after all!). In 2013, 7 Nao joined the cast of Blanca Li dancers and participated in their ROBOTS show. It was the first global show featuring robots, and it has attracted many audiences worldwide.
In Vendée, in a specialized center of the Association Autistic Without Borders, a small NAO and a child, Lucas, have formed a special bond. Impassive, always positive, NAO encourages Lucas without judging him. Since their meeting, Lucas has subsided and contact with adults is easier for him. Since July 2015, a new kind of hotel opened in an amusement park in Japan. And NAO has been chosen to provide reception and concierge services. He welcomes guests and gives them information in several languages.

Here is a short video entitled "The Evolution of Dance by Nao" to show you the fluidity and speed of the little robot’s movements !

Pepper, the emotional robot

Pepper was created by the same company as Nao, but its quality is to recognize the main human emotions and interact with its owners, adapting its behavior according to their mood. The SoftBank Robotics site describes it thus : "Endorsement and friendly, Pepper is more than a robot, it's a real humanoid companion created to communicate with you in the most natural way and intuitive as possible. Pepper is curious to learn more about your tastes, your habits and who you are, simply. Pepper can recognize your face, speak, hear or move independently. You can also customize your robot by downloading applications that you do want, depending on your mood of the moment. Dance, play, learn or even talk in another language, Pepper suits you! Your robot evolves with you. Gradually, Pepper remembers your personality traits, preferences and adapts to your tastes and habits.”
In sum, it is an incredible advance since we are talking about a robot capable of detecting the main characteristics of each human emotion (look, smile, tone of voice, attitude, etc.) and adapting to please his owner. Obviously, it will not answer you if you talk bad to him because you are angry, but the fact that he knows how to recognize human emotions is quite fascinating and a little frightening at the same time. Today, more than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan have integrated Pepper as a new way to greet customers. Recently, Pepper is the first humanoid robot who joined the Japanese Nestlé company. They planned to equip more than 1,000 outlets Nescafé in Japan and greet its customers through Pepper.

To introduce you Pepper, here's an interview about it (there is also Nao!). Obviously if you want to see him interact a little more, I invite you greatly to search for other videos on the ...

FACE, the humanoid robot

In terms of similarity with humans, this is perhaps the FACE robot that exceeds all expectations. FACE can be sad, happy, disgusted, angry ... In short, it is programmed to reproduce many human emotions and the fact, a little too much for my taste. It was modeled on the face of the wife of one of its creators, and can imitate various emotions by facial expressions. It was created by the University of Pisa, Italy, with the aim of research to go beyond the impression of "uncanny valley. This impression is the discomfort we feel when we see a humanoid robot, which looks much like a human being, but not perfectly, allowing us to identify it as a robot.
"When a being shared elements both human and inhuman, it creates a feeling of worry or anxiety in the brain," explained Karl MacDorman, the professor in charge of the robotic behavior at Indiana University, the US "This is when different parts of the brain come to different conclusions at the same time" For the moment, FACE can reproduce anger, fear, joy, disgust, surprise and sadness. 32 separate motors are required to operate the muscles of his face, and his bust, to mimic emotions. For improve the program its creators have asked 5 children with autism and 15 non-autistic children, to identify themselves the emotions represented by the robot. They determined that she knew better reproduce the sadness, anger or joy as surprise, disgust or fear. A few months ago, we talked about this robot, with this video that showed his reactions (and those of EDI robot) before the trailer of the movie Morgan.

Here, to complete this little presentation, the video created by the University of Pisa, about FACE. You decide if it actually played better joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust or surprise!

Romeo: the support robot

Created by the company Aldebaran, Romeo is a project to further research on assistance to elderly or frail. Romeo is a collaboration of many laboratories and institutions in France and Europe. Its size, 140cm, has been designed so it can open a door, climb stairs or reach for objects on a table. When perfected, Romeo will be able to interact physically and socially with its users. The site [] says elsewhere: "The robot will feature Romeo response capacity to some user input, but also will force proposals to animate days and create a social link between it and its users. Through learning technologies through imitation, creating memories and a panel of pro-active behavior, the ROMEO robot will be able to have a real social role and useful for its users. "
For now, Romeo is at an internship project, and is developed in many European research centers, which tend to improve so he could one day be used as real life assistant. This is a magnificent project has set up European laboratories, in association with Aldebaran, and hopefully it will bear fruit in a few years!

Here is a video about the project Romeo!

The five robots that I have just presented are those which, for my taste, are the closest to the hosts that we can see in Westworld, in that they are designed to live with humans and to adapt to them. Obviously, as you have surely noticed, their creators focus, for now, mainly on their functionality, their effectiveness, and not on their appearance (except for FACE). Nevertheless, we can imagine that in several years we will see robots with the same functionality, improved, but looking like us in all things ...

So we are already at the conclusion of this IRL on humanoid robots. Next week I will take you with me for a little exploration around artificial intelligence, which is also a fascinating topic...
Meanwhile, my friends, I suggest you to always try to broaden your curiosity, your culture, your knowledge, while remaining aware that we are… totally ignorant !

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