Robots – Issue 52
Why is it that whenever we get busy, we seek to solve
our problems in the same way? I would have thought
we were clever enough to come up with a new plan,
besides one of our dopey ideas really isn’t a solution
at all; because in this day and age and in this country
we cannot clone human beings. End of story.
let’s just put an end to wasting our time and energy
thinking about how wonderful life would be if only we
could clone Allan. Face it, cloning a sheep is a far cry
from whipping up a test tube guy with good technical
and documentation skills, or a hot designer, or great
all rounder. From what I have read about the lengthy
and impassioned ethical debates on the topic, it is
going to be a long time til we clone much of anything.
I suggest starting now, we become more realistic and
instead of wasting our brain cells considering which
we would clone, a more useful endeavour might be
to seriously consider employing a few good robots.
Before you pooh pooh the idea, you should know that
there are some very nice models on the market, their
looks have evolved significantly since we all spent the
better part of our youth watching ‘Lost in Space’ and
Robot technology has not only advanced in terms of
their capability, some are not too bad looking either.
Take Keanu Reeves, he’s a looker – oh wait he is real
guy and only acts like a robot.
Anyway the point is with the right black designer outfit
and accessories a robot could fit in just fine in any
of our Geyer studios and the benefit of employing a
few would be we could get a model to pick up the
slack and do the rotten jobs none of us want to do.
For instance, the robot could take care of that project
register I should be opening right now, they could fix
the jams on the copier and if properly programmed
they could complete our timesheets.
I probably don’t need to point out the obvious
advantages there would be gained from using robots
instead of people: no sick days, personal leave or
toilet breaks and they don’t sing at their desk like
Darryl or Hoa. Robots are also more in tune with our
expectations of productivity than real people. In his
book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, author
Tony Schwartz explains that our busy lives and
access to technology pose an unrealistic demand on
our ability to be productive at all times.
In other words human beings are not robots.
The typical person needs to have renewal breaks
to be productive. Human beings are not meant
to operate: at high speed, running continuously
engaging in multiple programs; but this is the way we
expect our businesses to run. The basic design and
physiology of a human is prone to waves of activity.
This rhythmic wave between expending energy and
resting is evident in the beating of our hearts, brains
waves and the flexing and relaxing of muscles. Even
our sleep cycles follow the circadian rhythm, but
what most of us don’t know is this rhythm occurs
even during the day and is referred to as the ultradian
When we are awake we flow from a state of high
arousal to one of quiet / fatigue every 90 minutes.
For this reason real productivity will only occur when
we align our work lives with the natural rhythms of
our bodies by taking a ‘renewal break’ every 90
minutes. The length of the break is less important
than the quality. The best ways to renew are
personal, subjective decisions that one learns through
However, Schwartz offers activities
like reading e-mails (a continued
left hemisphere cognitive task) is
not as effective as taking a walk,
experience sunlight, listening to
music, or speaking to your kids
on the phone when they get home
Clearly this guy’s kids are less demanding than mine,
who can be equally, if not more challenging than
If we were of the mind to get into robots at Geyer
we are in the right spot. In his address at the CeBIT
conference last week Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte,
Research Director at the Australian Centre for Field
Robotics told us that Australia has one of the largest
robotics groups in the world. He says isolated places
are great for robots and when it comes to isolation,
we’ve got plenty of it downunder.
In fact the Australian mining industry is the most
automated in the world, even more so than
in defence. The mining companies in WA and
Queensland rely heavily on robots to drive trucks,
operate drilling rigs and locate people. Unlike the real
employees, the robots don’t care how much K-Rudd
wants to raise resource taxes, nor do they care that
the government is spending 38.5 million dollars on a
pro – mining ad campaign. They don’t even care that
the government has waved its own guidelines aimed
at restricting political advertising. The good thing
about robots is they don’t give a stuff.
Japan leads the world in robotics design; the
government there is pushing to develop the industry
as a road to growth. One of the latest Japanese
robots created by the Intelligent Robotics lab at
Osaka University and robot builders Kokoro Co.
Ltd. looks just like a person. In fact Gemonoid was
modelled after a real person.
Using a sophisticated scanning system they have
copied the features of a twenty something year old
model, the robot features silicone skin, realistic hair,
and teeth. Not only does she look real, the ‘gynoid’
(a female robot) has the ability to mimic tiny facial
movements that make her appear much more human
like. For instance she can smiles, raise an eyebrow,
or flick her nose and say preeminent at the same
time (okay I made up that last bit).
Looking at the photos it is a little creepy, but no
creepier than some of the real people I have worked
with over the years. In fact the robot might have more
personality than some of my past co workers.
According to robot makers, the purpose of copying
people so closely is that we apparently cannot
develop trusting relationships with things that look like
vacuum cleaners, it is the same reason we like cats
and dogs more than spiders – they have faces. This
is why Tom Hanks drew a face on Wilson in the movie
The people that have designed Gemonoid F think she
might be perfect in roles like a receptionist; clearly
they have never tried to answer the phones here at
Geyer when we were doing the rotation system or
they would know better. But let’s say all they had to
do was sell admission tickets in a museum, it could
be well worth the $110,000 the Gemonoid F costs
and as I pointed out earlier, you don’t have to pay
super, give them lunch breaks or concern yourself
with the ergonomics of their workstation. I’m sure
there is basic maintenance, change the batteries,
their hairdo, adjust their make-up for the season, but
all in all it sounds promising.
Before we get overly excited and put in an order for
five, lets shop around, after all robots might be like
Apple products – you are better off waiting for the
next gen release when all the creases are ironed
out and the price drops.
If we were prepared to
wait a bit we could get ourselves a HUMAVIP that
is a ‘Humanoid with Auditory and Visual Abilities in
Populated Spaces’. This technology makes the robot
more human by building in algorithms that will enable
him or her to focus their attention on one person
when others are talking. Consequently, providing the
simple social skills required to deal with small groups
The technology that enables this is quite unique
due to its ability to combine both auditory and
visual information to identify human speakers
among background noise. Radu Horaud, Director of
Research at INRIA who has been developing this uses
algorithms to allow the robot to recognise gestures,
which further its capability to focus on a specific
person. He believes that when he is able to have a
robot be in a room of four or five people and enable it
to keep track of how many people are speaking and
how many are not, he will really be on to something.
I’ll say, if he can accomplish this, we can get one of
these to go to the marketing meetings for me.
Robots are used in many professions. Here in
Australia we use robots to unload containers at the
terminal in Brisbane, man drilling rigs in WA and milk
cows in Victoria. There are currently four robotic
dairies in Victoria and the little buggers can milk the
cows three times a day getting the maximum amount
of milk from a herd.
We also have robots monitoring our seas, tracking
the warming ocean temperatures and ocean salinity,
monitoring terrestrial ecosystems and fighting bush
fires. Of course everyone knows robots build cars
and can detect bombs, but did you know they can
also mow your lawn or sweep your floor? Face it they
are good at doing the really dirty or boring jobs no
one else wants to have anything to do with such as
cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly,
even the robots are having little success there.
Near and dear to my heart, the Japanese have
designed a robot that can play baseball. The robot
can throw 90 percent of its pitches in the strike zone
and when batting it can determine if pitches are
strikes or balls, it won’t swing at pitches outside the
strike zone! Having watched lots and lots and lots of
baseball this would be quite a good thing for parents
who have had to sit through the painful T-Ball years.
Wrong again, the ‘wearable’ augmented reality robot,
which is of course another wacky Japanese invention,
is designed to introduce sensation into internet
communications. Called the ‘iFeel_IM!’ this robot is
really a suit with sensors that will deliver sensations
to remote users who also wear a suit. So instead of
using emoticons :-), >< they could feel your warm
embrace, or the other.
So as we finalise our budgets for the year to come I
suggest we consider one or two bots, while they may
be expensive to start with, it is always best to take a
long term view. The good news is that if we don’t like
them, we can just pull the plug which is more than I
can say for real people.
The next generation of robot exploration is focusing
on human to robot interactions. In Japan there are
already robots that dispense drugs and sort out
injections to patients. Panasonic makes these bots
and will be marketing them to hospitals in the US
and Europe, they expect an annual revenue from this
robot and others to reach 30 billion yen in the next
financial year to 2016. No wonder the Japanese
government believes this is a good investment.
Despite all of this, I can understand that you still
may not be warm to the idea of a robot, you might
find them cold and insensitive, but actually they do
have models that deal with the most sensitive of
issues. Last month the 1.5 metre tall I-Fairy robot
with flashing eyes and plastic pigtails conducted a
marriage ceremony between Satoko Inoue and her
new husband Tomohiro Shibata. He is a professor
at Nara Institute of Science and Technology and she
works for Kokoro the maker of Gemoinide F. I think
the pigtail part is really romantic and the groom
said the robot was very good at expressing herself.
I suppose we should consider where the guy works
and who he was marrying, expectations might have
been different to yours or mine.
You still think you could never really get warm and
cosy with a robot? After all a robot can’t give you a
hug when you have had a bad day
Cole, Emmet; Humanoid Robots to Gain Advanced Social Skills; Wired
Magazine; February 12, 2010
Barras, Colin; Learning To Love To Hate Robots; Fast Company;
December 14, 2009
Eaton, Kit; LifeLike Geminoid F Robot Creepily Blurs Boundaries of Reality;
Fast Company; April 5, 2010
Eaton, Kit; Today’s Vision of Tomorrow: Tiny Robots Doing Your House
Chores; Fast Company; February 12, 2010
Measuring the Productivity Paradox, BLOGPOST HBR Ideacast featuring
Tony Schwartz author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.
AusInnovate Conference at CeBIT – May 24, 2010 Sydney Convention
and Exhibition Centre; Case Study Presentation: Mining and Agriculture
– Automation and Remote Operations in the Primary Sector; Prof Hugh
Durrant-Whyte, Research Director, Australian Centre for Field Robotics.