Communication - A natural role for a humanoid robot : Campus Party Europe 2013

Will Jackson showcased his latest humanoid robot – Robothespian 3.6 – at Campus Party’s Galileo stage. He runs Engineered Arts, a 10-employee UK company founded in 2005. Their latest creation is an entertainment humanoid, currently deployed in 14 countries around the world, at locations including Kennedy Space Center, various universities and several entertainment venues.

The word robot has Czech roots, being originally coined by the writer Karel Čapek in 1920. It translates into “forced labour”, making the commonly-used fantasy scenario of robots taking over the world just that – a fantasy; Will Jackson agrees. At their current stage of development, humanoid robots are perceived as a replacement for over-paid entertainers rather than for low-paid manual labor, with humans being the driving force behind the programming, design, maintenance and repair of such machines. Robothespians are currently being used at birthday parties, at stand-up comedy performances or even as reporters on red carpets around the world, thanks to its ability to utilise 30 languages of audio and generated speech.

Robot development also serves as a great integration platform, as it’s almost impossible for one company to deliver the whole robot. This means that co-operation and partnerships with other companies are vital and are further driving the development of the industry.

When you stop to consider the real functionality and purpose of this particular breed of robots, it’s easy to see why the humanoid form is used. To date, human-friendly robots generally tend to us a humanoid form with passive stability, expressive head, face recognition, agile upper body and programmable voice, Although walking has largely been put on hold until now, due to design restriction and commercial viability, walking is so important for the perception of the robot and is a natural expression by which gender, age, size and mood can be recognised – as illustrated by the research of Bio Motion Lab at Queens university in Ontario, Canada. This is the main reason why Will and Engineered Arts have decided to include walking among other new functionalities in their new creation, Robothespian 4.0, coming in 2015.

Will believes that we’ll see a steady increase in the use of humanoid robots in entertainment, but not in utility functions for another 20+ years – so we’re safe for now.

Or are we…?