Over recent decades, the technology used to create humanoid robots has undergone significant advancements. In this article, AZoRobotics takes a look at the current state of humanoid robots.
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What are Humanoid Robots?
Humanoid robots first emerged in the 1930s with the development of Elektro, which was showcased at the 1939 World’s Fair. With the primary goal of creating machines that can mimic human form and movements and interact with humans in a natural way, humanoid robots have developed over the decades to increasingly resemble human beings.
Usually, humanoid robots have features that mimic that of humans, such as hands with fingers for fine motor control and a head with a face capable of expressing emotions.
Today’s humanoid robots are highly dextrous, have integrated artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, are more lifelike, and are more relevant to our lives. Recently developed humanoid robots such as Sophia by Hanson Robotics and Pepper by SoftBank Robotics have made their mark on the market due to their unique interactions with humans.
What Industries Use Humanoid Robots?
Since humanoid robots have become more sophisticated, they have found an increasing number of applications across a wide range of industries.
Healthcare is one major user of humanoid robots. In healthcare, humanoid robots can assist in providing support to patients by helping with tasks including patient monitoring, physical therapy, medication delivery, and more.
Humanoid robots are also being increasingly used in education. Here, they are used to provide personalized learning experiences for children, as well as a tool to make learning more engaging.
The manufacturing industry also makes use of humanoid robots. In this industry, they are used to assist in tasks that require human dexterity. They are also used to perform tasks that are dangerous or involve handling hazardous materials to remove human workers from these risky positions.
Space exploration also has several uses for humanoid robots, such as performing tasks during space missions where getting a human astronaut to complete the task would be too risky. Robonaut 2 (R2) developed by NASA is an example of a humanoid robot that has been used in space, specifically, it assisted with tasks on the International Space Station (ISS).
The field of research and development also relies on humanoid robots for studies to help advance robotics and artificial intelligence.
Finally, humanoid robots are often used in the entertainment industry, such as in theme parks, where they are used to enhance attractions by adding a novel element to shows and attractions.
Recent Developments in Humanoid Robots
The field of humanoid robots is constantly evolving, and in recent years, there have been many advances. In 2019, for example, two humanoid robots developed by Hanson Robotics - Sophia and Han, engaged in a debate at the RISE conference in Hong Kong. The debate made headlines as it showcased the robot’s AI capabilities in speech recognition and natural language processing. The pair of robots even joked about taking over the world.
Also in 2019, Toyota Motor Corp unveiled its T-HR3 robot. The humanoid robot is designed to mimic the actions of a real human, creating movement while wearing a headset and wiring on their arms and legs. The T-HR3 hints at future possibilities of humanoid robots, such as allowing surgeons to perform operations remotely without needing to physically be in the room, bringing the world’s experts into operating theaters across the globe.
Watch Ameca the humanoid robot in its FIRST public demo
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In 2018, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan revealed its HRP-5P robot, a sleek humanoid robot capable of using power tools and tackling heavy-duty construction tasks. The robot demonstrates the potential future use of humanoid robots in the construction industry.
Most recently, in 2023, Sanctuary AI released Phoenix, a 5-foot, 7-inch humanoid robot powered by advanced AI software. The robot has dextrous hands capable of handling a range of tasks. It is predicted that the robot will be used as a general-purpose robot to fill the labor gaps in industry. This new robot represents future uses of humanoid robots, and how they may be used to overcome challenges in recruiting enough human workers.
What Ethical Issues Surround the Development of Humanoid Robots?
As humanoid robots have developed, their advanced capabilities have caused some of science’s most prominent thinkers to highlight the ethical considerations of producing this type of intelligent technology. Stephen Hawking once warned that the technology must be controlled due to the potential for robots to destroy the human race.
While humanoid robots have the potential to fill gaps in the workforce, there is a real concern that they may displace human workers in the future. Jobs that would have been filled by human workers may be filled by humanoid robots so that companies can cut costs and improve profit margins.
There is also the danger that humanoid robots may learn discriminatory behaviors from the data they are trained on. Existing societal prejudices could be picked up on by humanoid robots and lead to unintentional discriminatory behavior.
The question of autonomy has long surrounded the use of humanoid robots. As humanoid robots become more intelligent, they are becoming more autonomous. As this intelligence develops, the question of who is responsible for the actions of these robots becomes more important.
The Future of Humanoid Robots
In the future, humanoid robots will likely become more intelligent as the AI software they use becomes more sophisticated. Ethical considerations, however, will likely shape how humanoid robots are adopted and in which industries and applications they are used.
References and Further Reading
Sulleyman, A. (2017). Lifelike robots 'joke' about taking over the world, say humans are not 'the most ethical creatures’ [online]. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/tech/robots-debate-ai-humanity-take-over-world-lifelike-humans-hans-sophia-a7839061.html
Toyota unveils enhanced version of humanoid robot [online]. CBS News. Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/toyota-robot-unveils-enhanced-version-of-humanoid-robot/
Bishop, T. (2023). With new Phoenix robot, Sanctuary AI looks to usher in ‘labor as a service’ [online]. GeekWeek. Available at: https://www.geekwire.com/2023/with-new-phoenix-robot-sanctuary-ai-looks-to-usher-in-a-new-era-of-labor-as-a-service/