A controversial question that has, is, and will keep generating heated debates.Whether humans should feel threatened or not is, in the end, a matter of perspective. For the time being, all we can do is try to come to terms with the latest technological advancements and the role they play in our society.

We would be safe to assume that the creation of Sophia by Hanson Robotics has given birth to a new tendency in robotics: humanlike androids that might eventually be used to take over certain tasks and jobs that we have always associated with humans.

Promobot, a Russian start-up,has recently unveiled the world’s first autonomous android. Closely resembling a real person and endowed with a business capacity,Robo-C is practically an android clone: it can be personalized to look like anyone, including YOU!According to its creators, its artificial intelligence system has over 100,000 speech modules and can be used in various settings. For instance, as a home companion able to read the news or manage smart appliances.Robo-C can also perform a wide variety of workplace tasks such as assisting customers in offices, airports, or banks, act as a guide in museums, or accept payments.

Have a look at it here.

The Uncanny Valley hypothesis

According to Oleg Kivokurtsev, the co-founder of Promobot and development director, Robo-C was developed to meet an increasing customer demand. Based on the ‘Uncanny Valley’ concept, humanlike robots tend to generate a positive perception. The company already has more than 10 orders from private clients and companies from all over the world.

If you are not familiar with the Uncanny Valley concept, then you should know that it was postulated in 1970 by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist. The concept relates to the design of robots: the more humanoid a robot looks like, the more people will acknowledge its flaws, making them feel like they are looking at zombies. However, this valley can be overcome if the android is as faithful as possible to its human counterpart.

While it is true that Robo-C can’t walk around, it features 18 facial moving parts, which grant it 36 degrees of freedom. According to the company,Robo-C has more than 600 micro facial expressions, an unprecedented record on the market. In addition, Robo-C has 3 degrees of freedom in its torso and neck, ensuring limited movement. For an amount that ranges between $20,000 and $50,000, Robo-C can be customized and used in homes and workplaces.

Has digital immortality just become possible?

Promobot has disclosed that the company is currently building four versions of the Robo-C android. One of them is for a government service centre. Alongside other functions, the android will scan passports. Expected to be part of a robot exhibition, the second robot will look like Einstein. Two more androids will be builtfor a family in the Middle East: they will look like the father and his wife and their task will be to greet guests.

Kivokurtsev takes pride in being able to offer his customers ‘digital immortality’ by digitizing personality and creating individual appearances.

Before we move to Asian grounds, there is another Eastern European start-up company worth watching out: Rozum Robotics. The company has already caught Samsung’s attention and got included in the Samsung Startup Membership Program. Though the company is currently focusing on manufacturing performant robotic arms, frameless motors, and servomotors, there are several intriguing projects definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially the Robotic Barista one.   Should a face and body be added to the skilled arm, the way we enjoy coffee may change forever.

The Japanese robotic revolution

It is undeniable that thanks to its cultural affinity for robots, Japan is currently the leading supplier of industrial robots. However, cultural affinity is not the only reason behind this robotic boom: Japan’s aging workforce has called for strategies to deploy robots in low-productivity sectors such as agriculture or nursing.

According to Hiroshi Fujiwara, the Japan Robot Association’s executive director, Japanese people acknowledge robots as partners that are able to remove burdens off their shoulders. The roles of humans and robots are clearly defined and accepted: humans perform tasks that robots are not able to, while robots are meant to enhance productivity and make humans’ lives easier and safer.

For over 20 years, Hiroshi Ishiguro (a renowned professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Engineering Science and an ATR researcher) has been making life-like androids: android-style copies of himself, his daughter, a Japanese model and newscaster, and even of the Danish professor Henrik Scharfe. However, his goal is for his creations to have consciousness and understand what being a human means.

Erica is Ishiguro’s most life-like creation. Ericahas been designed to exhibit human-like abilities such as speech and interaction. Funded by the Japanese Science and Technology Agencyand developed in collaboration with ATR and Kyoto University, Erica is bound to a chair and connected to sensors that closely monitor her surroundings. She is able to speak scripted responses and learn things about her interlocutors during conversations.

In April 2018, Erica started to work as an ‘announcer’ at the Nippon Television Network under the name Erica Aoi, ranking first out of 25 female announcers on the talent page of the network. Her birthday is listed as August 2017, while her education and blood type are listed as nil. Ever since, Erica has featured various videos on robot news, she reported on a fashion show, and interviewed designer Tae Ashida. Though the conversations are not completely natural, they are witty and even funny.

Even though the start is promising, Ishigurobelieves that, since androids are still costly to produce, their massive implementation in the workplace is still impossible. For instance, producing another Erica would cost over $200,000. Meet Erica here.

Though Erica is Ishiguro’s most famous creation, two more of his robots had previously landed a job. In 2014,his androids Kodomoroid and Otonaroid were ‘hired’ at Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. Their roles were to present scientific news and interact with visitors.

We have just entered 2020 and we are already looking forward to seeing what the new year will bring about!