However, we’ve started to make progress, and some of the early attempts at god-honest androids are pretty impressive…and just a little scary.
Below we take a look at some of the most impressive androids ever made. It’s nearly impossible to create an Android demo that doesn’t feel like the opening of a robot apocalypse movie, so be careful: the future is coming and it’s weirder than ever.
It is impossible to make a list of impressive androids without mentioning ASIMO, the first android to capture the human imagination and the first to introduce the idea of practical humanoid robots into the popular mind. ASIMO, whose name means «Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility,» is a three-foot robot that looks like a cross between a space suit and an iPod.
In terms of hardware, the platform has multiple sensors, an operating time of one hour to several hours, and 57 degrees of freedom (including thirteen in each arm). ASIMO can climb and descend stairs, lift and manipulate objects, and was the first robot to demonstrate the ability to run (albeit at a calm, unhurried speed of 3.7 miles per hour).
On the software side, ASIMO offers a lot of tricks, including the ability to respond to voice commands, turn to look at noises, identify simple hand gestures, perform speech synthesis, and display your environment for navigation.
So why is ASIMO at the bottom of this list? In short, ASIMO is not a particularly reliable robot. Watch this video:
The modern version of ASIMO has gone through many iterations, but is ultimately an incremental improvement over the original ASIMO, one of the first humanoid robots to ever exist. Thus, ASIMO is limited by the design paradigms available at the time, none of which can handle the unexpected gracefully (in this demo, the stairs were higher than ASIMO was programmed to expect).
ASIMO fails when unexpected variables are introduced, which is why you tend to see the robot in very carefully structured public demos. ASIMO uses a conservative walking style that minimizes the degree to which its center of gravity is not directly over its feet, an approach that has led to ASIMO’s characteristic bent-knee duck. This, while easy to implement on flat ground, does not work well on uneven terrain and is not very fast, efficient, or looks natural.
“PETMAN is an anthropomorphic robot designed to test chemical protective clothing. Natural agile movement is important for PETMAN to mimic how a soldier stresses protective clothing in real-life situations. Unlike previous suit testers, which had a limited movement repertoire and had to be supported mechanically, PETMAN balances itself and moves freely; walking, bending and performing a variety of gymnastic exercises that emphasize the suit during exposure to chemical warfare agents.
PETMAN is impressive in many ways. While the machine lacks many of ASIMO’s features (such as arms, eyesight, and skin), it has impressive legs and extraordinary balance that allows it to walk in a very human way over rough terrain. The human step is essentially a series of controlled falls, and PETMAN mimics it admirably.
As a consequence of this, PETMAN can walk and run a little faster than ASIMO and is able to travel across various terrains. PETMAN is also pneumatically propelled, meaning it can be powered by a gas engine and can operate autonomously for longer periods of time than conventional batteries.