The Uncanny Valley is that point where something designed to look human gets too close to success, and ends up accidentally reminding us of the many, many ways that it also looks totally alien. The result: A one-way ticket to Creepoutsville.
Or, anyway, that's the hypothesis. See, despite the fact that we've long treated it as a given, the Uncanny Valley isn't a proven concept. In fact, writes Rose Eveleth at The BBC, the original 1970 paper that described the Uncanny Valley wasn't really based on research at all. It was more of an essay. An essay that nobody much questioned for 30 years. Since 2000, there's been some actual research on the subject, and the results are very mixed. Some studies can find evidence of the Uncanny Valley. In others, though, it appears to not exist at all.
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Transforming pop culture: Giant robots, such as those in Guillermo del Toro's blockbuster 'Pacific Rim' (above), have been big in Japan for decades.
About this Japan Times article he wrote, Matt Alt in Tokyo tells Boing Boing, "I interviewed several anime industry legends and combined it with some of my own research. The upshot: it's all about the toys. Sort of. The illustration is by my pal Hideo Okamoto, whose designs grace everything from the Gundam series to Pokemon. Unfortunately the digital version has none of the glory of the paper!" But you can click here to see a scan of the print version.
Human emotions and social interaction have a lot to do with body language — how our faces express what we're thinking and feeling, how our gestures are read by other people, and how we invade (or retreat from) each other's personal space. In fact, those movements and behaviors are so important that, if you map them onto an otherwise completely non-human, non-animal form, we'll start interpreting it as engaging with us — even if that form is nothing more than a moving stick.
This video, clips from a study that was published in 2011 by computer scientists at the University of Calgary, shows what test subjects did and said when they were left alone in a room with a stick-like robot, and asked to just think out loud and interact with the robot in whatever ways felt natural. Some people made friends. Others tried to fight it. And a few tried to talk it out of wanting to fight them.
Sculptor Nemo Gould sez, "I just finished up a new large scale kinetic sculpture made from found materials called Armed and Dangerous. It is a giant, mulit-armed, multi-faced, dual-zombie-powered, mercury-activated, electro-mechanical monster!"
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Jaimie Mantzel, creator of the Attacknid hexapod robot toys, is kickstarting a kit version that you build and decorate yourself. It looks like a really fun project, and there's an optional toolkit with soldering iron, screwdrivers, etc. The final robot is an RC attack-bot with all kinds of shooting stuff (darts, balls, etc) as well as a custom crane that isn't available for Attacknids. He needs a minimum order of 5,000 robot kits at $77 (and up, depending on options) to get into production.
Mantzel has also built a full-size, working spider tank out of scrap metal.
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The University of Pennsylvania's RHex robot is an all-terrain walker that has been in development for a decade. The robot's inventors have been programming obstacle-traversing strategies derived from parkour, getting it to do "double jumps, flips, and, through a combination of moves, even pull-ups:"
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Chorebot, one of my favorite RFF submissions
Boing Boing is proud to be a media sponsor of the Robot Film Festival's premier in San Francisco this weekend. Join us tomorrow at Bot & Dolly for a series of three film screenings, live performances, and the Botskers Award Ceremony. It's an all-day event starting at 11:30 with lunch and dinner included, so prepare for a massive overdose of robots!
Today is your last chance to get tickets. Check out the full schedule of events on the Robot Film Festival website. See you there!
This talented Japanese robot is able to do a multiple backflip off a wire with a completely amazing landing. I am increasingly convinced that humans are grossly inferior to machines in nearly every way.
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Zack sez, "For a starting bid of a mere $40,000, you can own the adorable Roddy McDowell-voiced robot from the eerie, somewhat incomprehensible 1979 Disney SF flick THE BLACK HOLE. The full-sized model includes lights, an internal motor to make the robot's head move, and a certificate of authenticity from the Disney Company. Sadly, there is no word on the availability of Old B.O.B. or Maximillian."
Lot 620: Full-size, screen-used V.I.N.CENT the robot hero from The Black Hole.
When eight-year-old Grady Hoffman went into the hospital for a bone-marrow transplant and a two month recovery, he stayed in touch with his family by means of a telepresence robot
that rolled around the house, feeding him video and audio from home and his siblings, and letting him talk to them.
Behold, the magnificent coffeebot! Sounds like this was a timer-percolator with a thermos bottle or a hotplate, but man, what an illustration!
Last year, I reviewed
Madeline Ashby's smashing debut novel vN
, a novel about robots, perverts and power. Now I'm delighted to see that Madeline has a sequel out, iD
. She's written about it for John Scalzi's Big Idea
Readers of vN wanted to know more about New Eden Ministries, the church that developed the vN for post-apocalyptic mass production. Now they will. They wanted to know more about Mecha, the city in Japan built by and for robots. Now they will. They wanted to know how Amy thought she could just start orphanages for unwanted robots in the middle of the ocean, without any repercussions from the human world. They’ll see how that turned out.
The Big Idea: Madeline Ashby>
Culture Japan Network TV shows us the underground bicycle-parking robots of Shinagawa, Tokyo. These machines ingest RFID-tagged bicycles and whisk them into their bowels and set them lovingly into huge subterranean crypts, from which they are robotically disinterred when their owners are ready to ride. Each machine holds 200 bikes. The manufacturer's representative explains that storing bikes underground protects them from "pranks" and frees up surface area for better applications, but inexplicably the area around the robo-ingesters is a blank field of paving bricks of approximately the same area that the bikes would occupy on the surface.
Underground Bicycle Parking Systems in Japan
For last summer's sock-hop, PJ and her daughter K made a Doctor Who themed poodle skirt, sporting K-9:
Now, K is a fan girl and not a girly girl at all, so though she wanted to wear a poodle skirt, she was not interested in some fluffy pink poodle on a pearl leash. Oh no. It had to be something fan related. Her first thought was a dalek skirt, with big yarn pom poms in lines all round and felt strips for the bars. Fabulous idea, too funny, but she decided that would be too obvious. She wanted it to be subtle.
She just wasn't sure what she wanted, so we picked a burgundy felt for the skirt, a wide black elastic for the waist, some shear black to make a scarf, and she picked out a bunch of felt rectangles, in a variety of colors for the decoration. My job was to make the skirt, which was the easy peasy part. Her job was the decoration.
Fan Girl + Sock Hop = Awesome!
At Smithsonian, Jimmy Stamp posted a brief history of bird automata. And yes, I know that Bubo from Clash of the Titans, above, isn't real. But... Bubo! Clash of the Titans! From Smithsonian:
The earliest example (of an avian automaton) dates to 350 B.C.E. when the mathematician Archytas of Tarentum, who some credit with inventing the science of mechanics, is said to have created a mechanical wooden dove capable of flapping its wings and flying up to 200 meters, powered by some sort of compressed air or internal steam engine. Archytas’ invention is often cited as the first robot, and, in light of recent technological advancements, perhaps we could even consider it to be the first drone; the very first machine capable of autonomous flight. Very few details are actually known about the ancient mechanical dove, but it seems likely that it was connected to a cable and flew with the help of a pulley and counterweight. This early wind-up bird was chronicled a few hundred years later in the pages of a scientific text by a mathematician, Hero of Alexandria.
"A Brief History of Robot Birds