Robot: Geminoid F

Robot: Geminoid F

This android robot looks just like a woman.


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Humanoid Robot

Photo of a humanoid robot

Photograph courtesy National Geographic Entertainment
Photo of a humanoid robot

Androids are robots that closely resemble people, and some are so realistic that you might mistake them for humans if you don’t pay attention! A Geminoid is a special type of android that doesn’t just broadly resemble a human; it is meant to look like a specific person. The word “Geminoid” comes from the Latin word geminus, which means twin—geminoid literally means “like a twin.” If you had a Geminoid, it would look just like you. Although a Geminoid might look light a person, it doesn’t yet have the brains to behave like one. Instead, it is controlled remotely, or pre-programmed to display simple behaviors, like greeting hello, or singing a song. Now imagine that instead of traveling thousands of kilometers to visit your family or to give a performance, you could send a robot that looks just like you. What if you could use remote control to make it talk and behave like you? This is called telepresence, since you’re tele-operating (remote controlling) a physical presence (a robot) that is somewhere else. Telepresence raises a lot of questions about the importance of human presence. If you have a robot that looks just like you and behaves just like you, is that robot the same as you? Does the person listening to the robot feel like you are there? If you are remote controlling this robot, do you feel like you are there? Researchers controlling their Geminoid remotely have noticed that they felt as though they had been touched, when in fact someone was touching their Geminoid somewhere else! Why does Geminoid F look the way it does? Making a robot look like a person takes the work of an artist. To make the Geminoid F, researchers in Ishiguro’s laboratory had to first measure the features of a woman using a 3-D scanner. They then used these measurements to produce a plastic mold of the woman’s face, which was then used to cast a silicone face for the robot with near-identical features. A lot of robots are made of hard materials, but the skin on the Geminoid F’s face and body is soft and flexible. Her silicone skin is one of the features that makes the Geminoid F seem so real. Another feature that helps to make the Geminoid F seem real is the way she moves. The Geminoid F has 12 pneumatic actuators that pump air through little valves all throughout her eyes, face, lips, neck and torso. These actuators are what make the Geminoid F’s expressions so very life-like. She blinks, twitches, and smiles almost like a real person. How do you feel when you watch the video of the Geminoid F? Does it make you feel in awe, or uncomfortable? These are common reactions that people have when they first see the Geminoid F. People who make robots are interested in understanding how the look of a robot influences the way we feel about it and interact with it. This might not be so important if you are building a robot arm to work in a factory, but it is very important if you are designing a robot that is meant to be near people. It’s so important, in fact, that there is a whole field of science called “human-robot interaction.” What kinds of robots do people most enjoy being around and interacting with? You might think that robots that look just like us would be the ones that we most enjoy being with, but it turns out that this isn’t exactly the case. Researchers have learned that as robots start to have more human-like features, we tend to enjoy being around them more—but only to a point. An industrial robot arm (the kind you might find assembling cars in a factory) is not something that most people would want to spend a lot of time with. A humanoid robot with cute cartoon-like features, like the iCub, tends to be very likable; it might not look exactly like us, but it has features (perhaps big friendly eyes, or a smiling mouth) that make it easy for us to identify with. But as robot starts to look too human-like, people tend to feel uncomfortable with it . . . it’s almost as if we can’t trust our senses to tell us if the robot is real or not. It’s hard to be comfortable around something that we feel might be tricking us! The point where a robot looks so much like us that we are uncomfortable with it is called “the uncanny valley”—a concept invented by the Japanese robotics Professor Masahiro Mori in the 1970s. The term “uncanny” refers to something that makes us feel unsettled or uncomfortable. The “valley” refers to our drop in comfort with something as it becomes too much (but not quite exactly) like us. If you are making a robot that you want people to be comfortable with, you don’t want it to be in the uncanny valley! Hiroshi Ishiguro, creator of the Geminoid F, has created a number of Geminoids over the years, including one of himself, one of his 4-year-old daughter, and one of a famous Japanese newscaster, Ayako Fujii. The Geminoid F (“F” stands for female) is modeled on a Japanese woman whose identity has not been revealed. The Geminoid F and other Geminoids help us to understand how the appearance of a robot impacts the way we feel about it. What can Geminoid F do? The Geminoid F can be programmed to act out a simple “routine,” or it can be controlled at a distance (remotely) using telepresence. The person controlling the Geminoid F sits in front of a webcam that captures their facial expression, orientation, and speech. This information is then translated to robot commands that are sent to the robot over the Internet. The Geminoid F was designed to travel so that it could go to science museums, demonstrations and labs around the world. She has been used for entertainment, singing songs, and acting in the first-ever play featuring an android (the name of the play was “Sayonara”, which means “goodbye” in Japanese). She’s also been used to sell products: the Geminoid F was once installed in a booth in Tokyo to trick passersby into thinking that she was a woman waiting for a friend. Whether she’s used in the lab or in field experiments, the Geminoid F is helping us understand how humans react to her presence and how human operators react to controlling her. What can't it do (yet)? The Geminoid F is still limited in its ability to behave autonomously, since a human must usually control it remotely. Because the goal was to make a robot that was easy to transport, the Geminoid F doesn’t have all the motion capabilities that some other robots have; it can’t move its arms or legs, for instance. The Geminoid F also needs special external equipment, such as an air pump to power the robot’s motors and a computer responsible for sending it commands.

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National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 12, 2024

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