"Money is flowing to universities and research centers," says University of Southern California engineering professor George Bekey, who led the WTEC team on a research trip through Korea and Japan in 2004 and 2005. "Korean funding for robotics is about $80 million a year. In contrast, U.S. funding for civilian robotics from the National Science Foundation is about $10 million a year."
Military spending on American robotics is robust, but our war-robot platforms are getting us no closer to a humanoid. Those platforms are purpose-built for bomb defusal and aerial surveillance, and so don't provide broader opportunities. "Korea and Japan have national strategic initiatives in robotics," the WTEC group wrote. "In the U.S., Darpa programs"—the chief source of military funding for high-level robots—"are highly applied and short-term oriented, while its support for basic research in robotics has been drastically reduced."
Viewed through the eyes of a Darpa program officer, it's easy to see why humanoids have been largely ignored. The logic of researchers like Hong is that to be truly useful, domestic robots must be human-shaped, because such technologies as stairs and refrigerator doors and bottle openers are designed for human use. But when funding agencies read that argument in a grant proposal, it only goes so far, because research hasn't established a consistent model for automated forms of walking, or opening iceboxes, or cracking beers. Designing humanoids, in other words, puts the cart before the horse.
"It has to do with U.S. pragmatism," says Carnegie Mellon University professor James Kuffner, who develops machine-learning software and heads the university's Humanoid Interaction Team. Like many leading American roboticists who do research in Asia, Kuffner worked for several years in Japan as part of a robotics fellowship at the University of Tokyo and is in the midst of a year's sabbatical at Google. "We think, 'If we have a problem, let's design the simplest, cheapest solution,' " he says.
Lee explains it in similar terms. "If you write a proposal here for a robot that plays music, you'll have a very hard time finding funding. What's the practical purpose?" he says. "Yet if a robot improvised a jazz performance, it might teach you all sorts of things about artificial intelligence and even human intelligence. There's more openness to that kind of investigation in Asia and Europe. Here the focus is on a well-defined problem."
As a result, what might otherwise someday form a full-fledged humanoid is in well-defined pieces all over the country. American researchers, focused on solving practical problems, are developing robotic prosthetics that are the functional equivalent of human limbs, robotic eyes that can detect cancer, and highly articulated robot arms capable of assembling tiny, intricate machines on a factory floor. Robotic components evolve separately and for highly specialized tasks.
Take grasping, for example. The interception and manipulation of objects by an automated appendage is perhaps the most commonly researched problem in robotics. ("It's approachable," Hong says.) Barrett Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has developed the WAM arm (short for Whole-Arm Manipulation) and the BarrettHand—lightweight, high-torque robotic limbs capable of complex motions and manipulations. Deka Research and Development Corp., led by inventor Dean Kamen, created the Luke Arm, which is also capable of extremely sophisticated movement, as an advanced human prosthesis. And Willow Garage, a company founded by open-source-software pioneer Scott Hassan, has created PR2, a two-armed robot atop a wheeled base. PR2 is particularly useful for investigating the manipulation of objects while it's in motion, an even more advanced problem—a team at the University of California at Berkeley recently used PR2 to devise a sophisticated and much-celebrated towel-folding algorithm.
Several U.S. teams are focused on bipedal walking, generally considered among the most difficult of all humanoid-robotics challenges and the one most closely linked to human applications, in that building bipedal robots helps researchers to develop a better prosthetic leg and foot because it forces them to reverse-engineer human movement. Marc Raibert, considered the father of leg robotics, founded the Leg Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon in 1980 and then moved it to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987 before going on to launch Boston Dynamics in 1992. The company's four-legged BigDog and two-legged Petman are capable of walking across unstable terrain—perfect for carrying supplies alongside a soldier on patrol—and can regain their balance dynamically even after being suddenly and violently shoved off course. Yobotics, founded by four alumni of MIT's Leg Lab, created M2, a bipedal robot that can walk in place and balance on one leg. And the University of Michigan's Human Biomechanics and Control Laboratory, headed by professor of mechanical engineering Art Kuo, is developing an "elastic locomotion" model that can help explain how we humans walk without seriously exerting ourselves.
Each of these systems feels like its own piece of an all-in-one American-made robot of the future. But without a governing authority piecing them together, or a centralized funding agency directing their convergence, each team, and their individual pieces of technology, will never form a cohesive whole.
ROBOT, PLEASE TELL ME WHY
What is the practical purpose of creating humanoids? Asking roboticists this question is like asking philosophers why they pursue the meaning of life. The logic is circular (we're building robots in humanoid form so that humans will better accept the robots we're building in human form), the message has to do with faith (when we're on the far side of this problem, we won't know how we got along before), and the broader purposes all involve distant rewards (artificially intelligent, problem-solving robot companions) that the researchers seem to consider unquestionably valuable but that are difficult to conceive of in the here and now.
David Hanson, the founder and chief technology officer of Hanson Robotics, collaborated with Jung-Ho Oh, the creator of Korea's Hubo, to produce a version of the robot with the face of Albert Einstein, made of simulated flesh and expression-generating actuators. Hanson is now developing a humanoid, called Zeno, that he hopes to market both as a household companion and as a research platform. His summary of the need for humanoids is representative of many people I spoke with. "Making humanlike robots," he says, "allows us to understand ourselves better." He believes that it creates a clearly defined research path; not just advancements in the various parts of a humanoid—improved prostheses, grasping, finally pinning down the mechanics of human balance—but the pursuit of robotic consciousness. "Cognition is the greatest challenge in all of robotics," he says. "If on the way we're designing humanoids, we have a handy benchmark for seeing where we are in the process."
In Japan and Korea, researchers—and, more significantly, funding sources—embrace this logic. Their commitment to developing humanoid robots means that Asimo and Hubo incorporate their respective countries' best work in everything from mechanical functions to intangibles like artificial intelligence. These functions are integrated into every successive generation of humanoid, rather than remaining in the lab of a specific team. By 2004, Asimo had already incorporated facial recognition, speech recognition, the subtleties of interpreting gestures and posture, and digital mapping of its environment. With Asimo, Hanson says, "Toyota and Honda have solved manual-dexterity tasks that used to be unsolvable. It's just that they show them off in silly ways. They get him to play trumpet or the violin. But with that dexterity, imagine what you can assemble in a factory! These are massive breakthroughs."
Most American engineers who have encountered Japanese and Korean engineers offer up armchair psychology about a pro-technology bias in those societies that creates enthusiasm for humanoids. Kuffner points out that in Japan, Shinto beliefs posit that inanimate objects have a benevolent spirit. "And Japanese boys who grew up in the '50s and '60s read comic books about Astro Boy and other characters with robot assistants and sidekicks—all friendly, kind," he says. "In the U.S., we think of The Terminator."
Japan has a famously robust public-private infrastructure that incubates academic work, links it to industry, and then provides federal funds to guide and protect the research that results. The resources that Japan pours into Asimo alone make the country the envy of roboticists around the world. Korea has a comparatively smaller pool of resources, but although it has lagged behind Japan in the creation of technology, it is similarly determined to dominate the market. In 2003 the South Korean government named robotics one of 10 "engines" to promote the country's economic growth, placing it alongside such stalwart industries as batteries, automobiles and display technologies.
The lab responsible for Hubo, Korea's most famous humanoid, sits on the sprawling campus of KAIST in Daejeon, south of Seoul. Oh first built Hubo, he says, because he wanted an Asimo and couldn't possibly afford one. Charmed and impressed by the first Hubo, the country's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy funded a lab in 2004 to support Oh's work. It has produced several versions of Hubo, including Hubo FX-1, a version of the robot large enough to carry adult humans, and the Albert Hubo that was co-created with Hanson Robotics. It's an indication of the country's pride in the program that Albert Hubo was, for a time, South Korea's most visible ambassador, shaking hands with heads of state including Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. The lab is so well-funded that it makes its own parts on-site, instead of having to explain requirements to a manufacturer. An adjacent room stores countless nuts and bolts and a seemingly endless spool of wires. "We produce everything in the lab," Oh says. "It's much faster."
Two hours away, in Ansan, the Korean Institute of Industrial Technology maintains its own lab, the Division of Applied Robot Technology. And these government-funded programs exist alongside robust robotics programs at companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai and smaller, dedicated ventures like Yujin and Microrobot. Fifty Korean kindergartens use educational robots for daily lessons, and pilot programs have been distributing domestic robots to Korean households since 2005. "They see robotics the way we saw the Apollo program," Lee says. "The government has decided 'We're going to put resources into this, we're going to throw our best and brightest at this, and we're going to transform our lives.'"
There is another Humanoid robot built in the USA called the
ATOM-7xp and was introduced to the world on Jan 4 2010 in Engaget magazine.
It's funny how Professor Hong knew about the ATOM-7xp humanoid project and did not say anything to Pop Science to include it a little in the article of USA built humanoid robots, I find that just plain wrong not to help a fellow robot builder, I guess it's all about him as always, it's not what you know, it's who you know..
I apologize for accusing professor Hong for not giving me a shout out in the Pop. Science article, I guess I was caught up in the moment, but that does not change the face there are other humanoid robots being built in the United States and Pop. Science needs to report them and give them some credit also.
Why build a humanoid robot?
This was answered generations ago by science fiction writers. Our entire infrastructure is designed around the human form. To be of greatest utility, it is only reasonable to build robots in the same form and on the same scale.
Why? Is that the question? It's because engineering school (hell school in general) costs so damn much. Once you finish you get into your real job and it sucks. Your stuck with big bills and debt to your ears. So how in the hell would you get time to be creative. Your not given space or funding to use what you learned to create new things. You are given a task that has been corporate ordered to complete. Most engineering jobs pay well enough to put your kids into college. Hopefully they will be able to produce stuff like this. The 20 somethings that actually have imaginations to create this stuff are to busy trying to make a buck and pull our rear ends out of the hole while the rich people (most without a college education) keep trying to make money with their same stupid ideas. Right now it doesn't seem feasible to spend big money on cool things. If it doesn't have a warhead, gun, or gas guzzling engine attached to it, then we don't really have a use for it.
I would like to know if any of these machines were developed specifically to do high-risk activities or work. They all seem too frail/clumsy to be effective as such.
i see a new mac vs windows dispute in the coming years, tank tread(windows) robots vs bipedal(mac) robots. one looks better and does somethings better, but other is better all around. but with better technology bipedal will eventually over take treads. similar to mac and windows today. pro's and con's to both.
,eh non humanoid robots are far more useful sooner so let them mess with that tech morerobotic cars, sewer cleaners and the like are far more practical atm
They also forgot about robonaut which is vaguely humanoid and NASA is planning on adding legs so it can be used on the Moon and Mars.
I think 99% of all robot research funds should go to AI. Once human-like AI is achieved, the rest of the robot problems will be considered solved, since you have now a sentient being able to figure out on his own how to use those mechanical arms and legs and whatever is linked to its "brain".
In addition to the above, I wouldn't mind being the last to create a humanoid robot, as long as I will be the first to create a working AI capable of human-like cognition.
I still see Popular Science has a bias towards other USA based humanoid robot projects by not including my ATOM-7xp humanoid in there photo gallery or article of which they know about.
The ATOM-7xp will be the most humanoid robot in the USA an 8 year project, I guess with Popular Science magazine the little robot builder guy don't need to apply.
That picture looks like one of the sets from a James Bond movie! The one with Jaws you know??
Japanese and Korean humanoid robotics suffers, so far, from the fact that their robots do not produce human-like locomotion. They walk with bending knees because their control laws are based on the so-called zero-moment point ZMP-concept. These robots use trajectory-tracking controllers that have proved much inefficient as regards the energy consumption. Their control laws are not based on the natural dynamics and control of human locomotion, where joint movements are performed in an open-loop manner. My research is devoted to design and control of humanoid robots in such a natural way, exploiting the gravity and the inherent robot dynamics. An approach for efficient learning of optimal control functions in performing steps is being developed. The learning control parameters are similar to those that human has to learn to produce a step in an optimal manner. The learning procedure is proved to be convergent within minimum number of trials. It can be very useful in designing efficient neurorehabilitation procedures as well.
Build the AI first, then have it design its own container
It's OK if we fall behind. We'll just outlaw the technology.
Interesting! I hope that everyone has a great weekend.
Interesting! I hope that everyone has a great weekend.
I just attended some super interesting robotics classes last semester. In a matter of no time I could build up a tracked robotic vehicle from some LEGO components and get it to follow a black line on a white table.
I am dazzled about the complicatedness of such a humanly simple task as kicking a ball. Not that I am so good at kicking balls, but one would think experts could surely program something like that...
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I still see Popular Science has a blind eye and is still promoting their lie this month that there is only one Humanoid Robot made in the United States. When there a another USA based humanoid robot project the ATOM-7xp humanoid and was in featured in there face book page photo gallery on April 29, and featured on Engadget on Jan 4, and in Robot and Servo magazine way before this other so called humanoid project. The ATOM-7xp will be and is the most humanoid robot in the USA. I guess the little company guy need not apply to Popular Science for help in getting the word out, I guess if your not some big company, Gov. organization or professor Popular Science is in love with you need not apply. Wow selective journalism only hides the truth of which the truth you cannot stop.
^^nice spam...(as if anyone reading this will be interested)
Maybe they haven't recognized it because there are no videos I could find at least ATOM 7xp walking or even standing up without supports...Yes I know it is difficult to do this especially as it looks like your doing it by yourself unless i'm wrong... or maybe popular Science realizes how bad windows operating systems are and thinks that you should have used Linux :p(that was a joke even though Linux is much better).
Although by the looks of things i'm taking a guess that your more of a mechanical Engineer than a programmer by a bit, judging by what it seems you've done so far which is quite impressive on a small budget with only 1 person. But i believe you will find some trouble when you try to get it to walk as it seems that will be quite a challenge mechanical wise and programming wise, especially with limited resources. Well hopefully you have success in making it walk. Although really this is just the beginning of what humanoids begin to do. Also maybe popular science will recognize you when your Bot gets more developed, as currently it doesn't seem enough to write a article on.
p.s. i apologize for my terrible writing as I am not and never will be a writer.
The subtitle of the article includes the following "Walking, self-contained, adult-size robots". Unless you can prove otherwise, the only criteria of the three the ATOM meets is 'adult-size'. You're not winning any support by repeatedly whining in the comments section of this article. You could have chosen a vastly different approach in which you could have garnered support instead of coming off like an angry teenager.
Well, there is another Humanoid robot built in the USA called the ATOM-7xp...
Humanoid Robots are pursued due to the fact that the world is designed for humans. Advances in humanoid robotics affect the disabled, injured (especially war related) and many of the infirmed. PS has produced stories of the blind seeing and invalids and aputees walking. The technology can address many of human's physical shortcomings.
More importantly, Robot technology will aid humans in their next step in evolution, which is cyborgism. Cyborgs live with us today in so many limited forms. It is clear to me that many will embrace cyborg technology. At first to repair damaged or nonfumction assemblies, then to enhance human ability. Recent advances with respect to the mind machine interface are the second phase of cyborgs. Within a couple of decades, some of us will appear much like the cyborgs of (currently) Science Fiction soon to be Science Reality.
This type of robot I believe is not popular in the USA because of the mind of the American in general. A robot that can be operated through a full Haptic suit as an avatar interface seems more like something the American mind set would like.
Off-world exploration with robots is something we will be capable of long before we are capable of human space travel. It also seems likely that working through a robotic exoskeleton will allow us do work in new fields of exploration here on earth.
Robots like these here may be of interest to the fat and lazy but my bet is on robots that augment and extend the human potential.
I don't see why it would be so much trouble to have a robot open a door; I think it can be solved through stance. When we open doors, we simply reach out our hand, grasp the doorknob, twisting it, pull back, and to the side, letting go, all the while making constant adjustments to our center of gravity that is changing due to the constant appliance of force. If someone could tell Charli to spread his feet from front to back as he opened doors, it should dramatically reduce the required calculations, because he doesnt need to balance over as many axis.
Your description of this article in the overview of the issue on the right panel made me laugh:
"We go in-depth with America's first (and only) humanoid"
I think you've missed the word robotic (or equivalent) there...
With this XP robot thing, why not do what the universitys are doing, set it up in a room with webcams, and make the project open source to the public. so it would be like having linux programed on your robot. and by open source, you have thousands of minds working at this rather then just one, and then everyoen will have some good code, to use from here and there.
I say a world wide open source project is the way to go, however, you will need to be around to pick him up if he falls and etc.
Can we see a video please? I am very interested in your work