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Robot maker builds artificial boy
AP via Yahoo! ^ | Thursday, September 13, 2007 | MATT SLAGLE, AP Technology Writer

Posted on 09/13/2007 5:23:26 AM PDT by Momaw Nadon

RICHARDSON, Texas - David Hanson has two little Zenos to care for these days. There's his 18-month-old son Zeno, who prattles and smiles as he bounds through his father's cramped office. Then there's the robotic Zeno. It can't speak or walk yet, but has blinking eyes that can track people and a face that captivates with a range of expressions.

At 17 inches tall and 6 pounds, the artificial Zeno is the culmination of five years of work by Hanson and a small group of engineers, designers and programmers at his company, Hanson Robotics. They believe there's an emerging business in the design and sale of lifelike robotic companions, or social robots. And they'll be showing off the robot boy to students in grades 3-12 at the Wired NextFest technology conference Thursday in Los Angeles.

Unlike clearly artificial robotic toys, Hanson says he envisions Zeno as an interactive learning companion, a synthetic pal who can engage in conversation and convey human emotion through a face made of a skin-like, patented material Hanson calls frubber.

"It's a representation of robotics as a character animation medium, one that is intelligent," Hanson beams. "It sees you and recognizes your face. It learns your name and can build a relationship with you."

It's no coincidence if the whole concept sounds like a science-fiction movie.

Hanson said he was inspired by, and is aiming for, the same sort of realism found in the book "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," by Brian Aldiss. Aldiss' story of troubled robot boy David and his quest for the love of his flesh-and-blood parents was the source material for Steven Spielberg's film "Artificial Intelligence: AI."

He plans to make little Zenos available to consumers within the next three years for $200 to $300.

Until then, Hanson, 37, makes a living selling and renting pricey, lifelike robotic heads. His company offers models that look like Albert Einstein, a pirate and a rocker, complete with spiky hair and sunglasses. They cost tens of thousands of dollars and can be customized to look like anyone, Hanson said.

The company, which has yet to break even, was also buoyed by a $1.5 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund last October. The fund was created by Gov. Rick Perry in 2005 to improve research at Texas universities and help startup technology companies get off the ground.

Hanson concedes it's going to be at least 15 years before robot builders can approach anything like what seems to be possible in movies. Zeno the robot remains a prototype.

During a recent demonstration, Zeno could barely stand and had to be tethered to a bank of PCs that told it how to smile, frown, act surprised or wrinkle its nose in anger.

Robotics, Hanson believes, should be about artistic expression, a creative medium akin to sculpting or painting. But convincing people that robots should look like people instead of, well, robots, remains a challenge that robot experts call the "uncanny valley" theory.

The theory posits that humans have a positive psychological reaction to robots that look somewhat like humans, but that robots made to look very realistic end up seeming grotesque instead of comforting.

"Nobody complains that Bernini's sculptures are too darn real, right? Or that Norman Rockwell's paintings are too creepy," Hanson said. "Well, robots can seem real and be loved too. We're trying to make a new art medium out of robotics."

So just how did Hanson end up with two Zenos, anyway?

It all goes back to when his wife, Amanda, gave birth to their first child and Zeno the robot was already in the works.

They rattled off several names to their baby boy, but it wasn't until they whispered "Zeno" that "this look of peace fell over his face; it was like soothing to his ears," Hanson recalled.

"There was no way we could give him any other name. He chose Zeno as his name," he said.

That was just fine with Amanda.

"I thought that it was very endearing, very sweet," she said.

The similarities go beyond the name. Though Zeno the robot was built to resemble the animated Japanese TV show character Astro Boy, his plastic hair and saucer-shaped eyes bear a striking resemblance to the curly locks and wide-eyed smile of the real Zeno.

"So by coincidence they're both Zeno, and in other ways this robot has become more of a portrait sculpturally of the son, although it's almost coincidence," said Hanson, whose previous jobs include working as a character sculptor for The Walt Disney Co. "We didn't consciously sculpt this robot to look like him. It's the way things filter through the hands of the artist."

Hanson says one of the robot Zeno's biggest advancements is that its brains aren't inside the robot. Instead Zeno synchs wirelessly to a PC running a variant of Massive Software — the same Academy Award-winning code that enabled the fantastical battles among humans, orcs and elves in the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Like some modern version of Geppetto's workshop, Hanson's office is crammed with rows of shelves stacked with books about robots next to toy robots and plastic skulls. Notes ranging from mathematical formulas to design sketches cover several white boards like high-tech graffiti.

There are scattered bits from Hanson's previous creations, including Albert Hubo, a white robotic body topped with a realistic head of Albert Einstein that has graced magazine covers and even shaken hands with President Bush.

Hanson has been recognized for his work, garnering accolades from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in 2005 and a "best design" award at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Triennial last year.

But Hanson is most proud of the real Zeno, a rambunctious toddler who frolics with free rein among priceless electronics.

"If the robots become popular I suppose it will pose an identity crisis for my son," Hanson said. "But I think that the amount of love that he receives will make him feel like an individual no matter what."

___

On the Net:

http://www.zenosworld.com


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: artificial; boy; robot; robotic
FYI and discussion
1 posted on 09/13/2007 5:23:27 AM PDT by Momaw Nadon
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To: Momaw Nadon
http://www.zenosworld.com
2 posted on 09/13/2007 5:24:53 AM PDT by Momaw Nadon ("...with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.")
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To: Momaw Nadon

HAs it taken up with a cricket yet?


3 posted on 09/13/2007 5:25:44 AM PDT by Hegewisch Dupa
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To: Momaw Nadon

Pinocchio!


4 posted on 09/13/2007 5:26:34 AM PDT by CholeraJoe ("On the campus, the quiet campus, the lion burns tonight.")
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To: Momaw Nadon

Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank are rushing down to Texas to check it out...


5 posted on 09/13/2007 5:29:27 AM PDT by chilepepper (The map is not the territory -- Alfred Korzybski)
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To: CholeraJoe

It’s Howdy Doody!


6 posted on 09/13/2007 5:29:48 AM PDT by battlegearboat
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To: Momaw Nadon

7 posted on 09/13/2007 5:30:46 AM PDT by SlowBoat407 (Free commerce is the only just way to redistribute wealth.)
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To: Momaw Nadon

?

8 posted on 09/13/2007 5:31:49 AM PDT by Michael Barnes
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To: CholeraJoe

Pinocchio found out he was made of wood when his hand caught fire. :-)


9 posted on 09/13/2007 5:32:22 AM PDT by vietvet67
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To: Momaw Nadon
This is so wrong.

I would've thought an artifcial woman would be first on the list.

10 posted on 09/13/2007 5:32:32 AM PDT by freedomson (Tagline comment removed by moderator)
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To: Momaw Nadon

11 posted on 09/13/2007 5:33:13 AM PDT by PBRSTREETGANG
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To: Momaw Nadon
Robot maker builds artificial boy

The "boy" was promptly diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and put on prozac.

12 posted on 09/13/2007 5:34:07 AM PDT by Larry Lucido (Hunter 2008)
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To: freedomson
I would've thought an artifcial woman would be first on the list.

You haven't seen Pamela Anderson?

13 posted on 09/13/2007 5:34:14 AM PDT by PBRSTREETGANG
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To: freedomson
I would've thought an artifcial woman would be first on the list.

They already have those on the market - the inflatable variety ... ;-)

14 posted on 09/13/2007 5:34:29 AM PDT by Ken522
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To: PBRSTREETGANG

I want Teddy.

I think he was the star of that Film.


15 posted on 09/13/2007 5:36:09 AM PDT by Malsua
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To: Momaw Nadon

OMG!!!!

Soon we will be inundated with Terminators!


16 posted on 09/13/2007 5:38:51 AM PDT by Brilliant
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To: Momaw Nadon

Just Announced....Michael Jackson bought the first 100 dolls of the production run....


17 posted on 09/13/2007 5:42:23 AM PDT by nevergore ("It could be that the purpose of my life is simply to serve as a warning to others.")
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To: Momaw Nadon


"I'll take ten!"
18 posted on 09/13/2007 5:43:18 AM PDT by reagan_fanatic (Ron Paul put the cuckoo in my Cocoa Puffs)
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To: Momaw Nadon
They believe there's an emerging business in the design and sale of lifelike robotic companions, or social robots.

Are we running out of real people?

19 posted on 09/13/2007 5:48:13 AM PDT by Between the Lines (I am very cognizant of my fallibility, sinfulness, and other limitations.)
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To: CholeraJoe

“Stay Wood.”


20 posted on 09/13/2007 6:06:48 AM PDT by massgopguy (I owe everything to George Bailey)
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To: freedomson

That was already tried by Harcourt Fenton Mudd when he made Stella.


21 posted on 09/13/2007 6:08:11 AM PDT by massgopguy (I owe everything to George Bailey)
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To: Momaw Nadon

He named his kid “Zeno?”

Gee, how long will it be before this kid gets teased with the taunt “Zeno’s a Zero?”


22 posted on 09/13/2007 6:21:13 AM PDT by FormerLib (Sacrificing our land and our blood cannot buy protection from jihad.-Bishop Artemije of Kosovo)
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To: freedomson
...I would've thought an artifcial woman would be first on the list. ...


23 posted on 09/13/2007 6:21:28 AM PDT by FReepaholic (Vini ,Vidi, VD: I Came, I Saw, I Cankered)
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To: Momaw Nadon

I can see it now - Democrats trying to secure voting rights for these things!


24 posted on 09/13/2007 6:24:48 AM PDT by JaguarXKE
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To: Momaw Nadon

I’d like to have one of these to slap around.


25 posted on 09/13/2007 6:27:41 AM PDT by Jaysun (It's outlandishly inappropriate to suggest that I'm wrong.)
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To: Momaw Nadon

Better get insurance against robot attacks and quick.

“Robots are everywhere, and they eat old people’s medicine for fuel.”

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/95/95foldglory.phtml


26 posted on 09/13/2007 6:29:16 AM PDT by Hillarys Gate Cult (The man who said "there's no such thing as a stupid question" has never talked to Helen Thomas.)
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To: vietvet67
Pinocchio found out he was made of wood when his hand caught fire. :-)

I thought it was when he discovered termites in his shorts......

27 posted on 09/13/2007 6:31:22 AM PDT by Hot Tabasco (No tap dancing allowed in this restroom facility)
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To: Between the Lines
Are we running out of real people?

In Europe, Russia, and Japan, they are.

In fact, Putin has ordered some workers to stay home and just have babies. Perhaps he can just send those people back to work to produce those "artificial boys" to they can replenish their population.

China could use 200 million artificial girls in order to satisfy the huge population of males having to go without their own partners.
28 posted on 09/13/2007 6:35:54 AM PDT by adorno
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To: Ken522
They already have those on the market - the inflatable variety ... ;-)

And THEY don't try to have a conversation with you.

29 posted on 09/13/2007 6:48:14 AM PDT by VRWCmember (Fred Thompson 2008! Taking America Back for Conservatives!)
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To: pesto

ping!


30 posted on 09/13/2007 7:05:56 AM PDT by basil (Support the Second Amendment--buy another gun today!)
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To: Momaw Nadon

I saw the image of this on Drudge. This doll is not named after Zeno the Stoic: his mouth is puckered up to weep and his eyes are full of tears.


31 posted on 09/13/2007 7:46:13 AM PDT by tailgunner (USMC Korea-Era)
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To: Malsua
I want Teddy.

I think he was the star of that Film.

Definitely!


32 posted on 09/13/2007 7:50:23 AM PDT by COBOL2Java (The Democrat Party: radical Islam's last hope)
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To: Momaw Nadon

coming next.....the artifical girl

http://parisfacial.ytmnd.com/


33 posted on 09/13/2007 8:30:45 AM PDT by finnman69 (cum puella incedit minore medio corpore sub quo manifestu s globus, inflammare animos)
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To: COBOL2Java
I'm 40 years old. A vet. Seen a lot of things.

That is the ONLY movie I find too horrible and painful to watch a second time.

34 posted on 09/13/2007 9:31:55 AM PDT by NucSubs (Rudy Giuliani 2008! Our liberal democrat is better than theirs!)
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To: CholeraJoe
"Pinocchio!"

I don't see the resemblance.

35 posted on 09/13/2007 11:30:12 AM PDT by Rb ver. 2.0 (Reunite Gondwanaland!)
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To: COBOL2Java

Super Friends last all summer long....


36 posted on 09/13/2007 11:33:20 AM PDT by Experiment 6-2-6 (Admn Mods: tiny, malicious things that glare and gibber from dark corners.They have pins and dolls..)
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To: PBRSTREETGANG

For some reason that movie gave me the creeps.


37 posted on 09/13/2007 2:05:11 PM PDT by BBell
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To: Momaw Nadon

I’m feeling a little...zenophobic...


38 posted on 09/13/2007 2:07:58 PM PDT by ExGeeEye (I've been waiting since 11/04/79 to do something about Iran.)
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