From: New York Times
"Not Exactly the Jetsons, but Getting Closer"
"Robots are still far from being the chatty companions seen in science-fiction movies. But some toy robots are becoming more than just conversation pieces.
According to the NPD Group, a market research firm, sales of robotic and interactive playmates in the United States were $284 million in the 12 months ended in October, up from $213 million in the previous 12 months.
One recent entry is the i-Sobot from Tomy of Japan. Only 6.5 inches tall, the i-Sobot has a list price of $299, making it less expensive than other advanced robots on the market, which often cost more than $1,000.
The i-Sobot has 17 motors to move its limbs, making it surprisingly fluid. According to James Kuffner, an assistant professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, robots that have 20 or more motors can replicate most human movement.
Like many other toy robots, the i-Sobot has a humanoid shape, which is not accidental, Professor Kuffner said. “A human shape has an appeal,” he said. “A dishwasher will only wash dishes, but a humanoid robot can do more.”
Among the things they do is fight. Professor Kuffner said that in Japan and South Korea, the centers of innovation in toy robots, people often have toy robot battles.
By 2026, he estimates, consumer robots should be able to perform many chores people find hazardous or distasteful. Honda the carmaker and a leader in robot design and research, has estimated that a robot the size of a typical 12-year-old can do most household tasks, he said.
The obstacles to building a robot of that size have to do with weight and cost. As robots get larger, they need more gears to move, making them heavier and more expensive.
Robots may also start to look more human, adding facial features and delicate hands, but that poses a psychological problem known as the uncanny valley syndrome. That idea, which was introduced in 1970 by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, refers to the disquieting effect that objects, particularly robots, have on people if they look too human.
“As you get closer to something human, but it is not a human, it is frightening..."
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