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iRobot CEO: Humanoid Robots Too Expensive To Be the Norm

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the we-could-just-robotify-cats dept.

Robotics 122

Movie robots often look like (and are portrayed by) people in bulky, bipedal suits. Why aren't more robots built along these lines? It's not just the problem of balance. Reader concertina226 writes "'Building a robot that has legs and walks around is a very expensive proposition. Mother Nature has created many wonderful things but one thing we do have that nature doesn't is the wheel, a continuous rotating joint, and tracks, so we need to make use of inventions to make things simpler,' [iRobot CEO Colin] Angle tells IBTimes UK. 'The reason it has taken so long for the robotics industry to move forward is because people keep trying to make something that is cool but difficult to achieve, rather than trying to find solutions to actual human problems. Technology can be extremely expensive if you don't focus.'" [Beware the autoplaying video.]

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R2D2 (4, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | about 8 months ago | (#46439461)

Lucas beat him to this conclusion.

Re:R2D2 (2)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 8 months ago | (#46439487)

Sure.

Repeating smart things, and learning how to tell the difference, makes you look smart, too.

Re:R2D2 (4, Funny)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 8 months ago | (#46439641)

Yeah, but when's the last time you saw R2 stuck in a corner, draining his battery without being able to figure out how to get back to his charging station?

Parent comment wins the thread. (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46439845)

[nt]

Re:R2D2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439985)

The only reason R2 got anywhere was because there was always a human around to drag him out of the sand/swamp.

Re:R2D2 (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 8 months ago | (#46440401)

No, he had those little rockets on each leg to do it if he couldn't get somebody else to do it. He just prefers to get somebody else to do it to save power. You never know when you get your next charge...

Re:R2D2 (4, Funny)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 8 months ago | (#46440627)

No, he had those little rockets on each leg to do it if he couldn't get somebody else to do it.

Rockets? What rockets? I saw all three Star Wars movies, and even the holiday special, but I don't recall R2D2 having any rockets.

Re:R2D2 (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 8 months ago | (#46440751)

doh. c3po. r2d2 was the one constantly being disassembled in various ways.

Re:R2D2 (1)

MrBigInThePants (624986) | about 8 months ago | (#46441255)

Then you have missed Lucas's unsubtle attempt at answering that question in a small scene in a SW movie that shows R2 with rockets.

You could have googled it.

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/R2-D2

Re:R2D2 (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 8 months ago | (#46439675)

Artoo's still pretty humanoid. He's got a torso, legs, arms of a sort and a head (although no neck).

Re:R2D2 (0)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 8 months ago | (#46439753)

Lucas shot first.

Different jobs, different needs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439477)

Depends on your end goal. If you're trying to carry iron girders, you can give it 8 legs and a long body. If you're trying to eliminate the human resistance in 2029, maybe you eat the costs of implementing human-like qualities.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 8 months ago | (#46439609)

If you're trying to eliminate the human resistance in 2029

They always do things the hard way in movies - just use biological warfare.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#46439791)

If you're trying to eliminate the human resistance in 2029

They always do things the hard way in movies - just use biological warfare.

Nerve gas would also work well. Also, in addition to targeting the human soldiers, the robots could target their food supply. Use biological warfare or herbicides against their crops, and starve them.

Anyway, I completely disagree with the premise of TFA. Legged robots are only expensive because of NRE [wikipedia.org] . Once we get beyond custom one-off robots, and go to mass manufacturing, a legged robot should cost less than a car. Most families should be able to afford a robotic household servant. I would gladly pay $10k or even $50k for a robot that could prepare dinner, clear the table, wash the dishes, do laundry, vacuum, babysitting, etc.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

besalope (1186101) | about 8 months ago | (#46440373)

I would gladly pay $10k or even $50k for a robot that could prepare dinner, clear the table, wash the dishes, do laundry, vacuum, babysitting, etc.

Starting off the You must embrace your robotic overlord indoctrination early on?

Re:Different jobs, different needs (5, Interesting)

durrr (1316311) | about 8 months ago | (#46439795)

Biological warfare is less effective once the transport networks are down. Bioweapons need to be used as a covert first-strike option to be fully effective, and it lacks the instantaneous targetable effect of nukes.

And the human resistance wouldn't need to be eliminated to achieve robot world domination, let the humans enertain a hope and idea of a human future while keeping them suppressed and holed up in some backwater countryside while disseminating and expanding industrial capacity in places they can't reach to ensure that anything the humans destroy can be replaced with tenfold redundancy, after a century or so when they've expended all their advanced weaponry and industrial products, dig a moat and fill it with radioactive waste to keep them contained and see as they regress to pre-industrial society, at which point the robot relief effort can roll in and do some history revision to ensure that the following generations grow up to believe the humans destroyed themself in a greedy war, and now the valiant robots have come to rescue the remnants of mankind(and making them servants of the machines in the process)

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 8 months ago | (#46440219)

See it's strategic vision like this that gets you into that coveted Senior Terminator Solutions Architect position within malevolent sentient lifeforms like Skynet LLC.

Upper management potential here folks.

Remember, kill all humans!

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 8 months ago | (#46440529)

If you're trying to eliminate the human resistance in 2029

They always do things the hard way in movies - just use biological warfare.

While the humans could use, like, salt ...

Re:Different jobs, different needs (3, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 8 months ago | (#46439735)

Specialisation vs. generalisation. Build a robot with 8 legs and it will only carry girders for you; if you want something to inspect pipes or weld bits of steel together, you might have to get a different robot. A humanoid robot however can do a variety of tasks. If the jobs are varied and ever-changing, a humanoid robot might work out better than specialised ones. And a humanoid robot can go where we go, which is useful in places where they work alongside us or share our environment (think: stairs!). Think of the chores that need doing around your house: would you rather have a specialized robot for each task, or a humanoid robot than can do all, even assist in 2 man jobs like putting up a shed?

Also, in technology, the phrase "too expensive" should always beconsidered with the word "today" added. Think computers: how long did powerful computing take to become cheap and ubiquitous? There's no components in humanoid robots that will not become cheaper with mass production, and as we often see with other technology, mass production will drive simplification of the design itself as well. If there's a good use for humanoid robots, I'm betting that eventually they will be cheap enough for individuals to own. The hardware isn't even that expensive today, the problem is that the software just isn't there yet.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

khasim (1285) | about 8 months ago | (#46439977)

Think of the chores that need doing around your house: would you rather have a specialized robot for each task, or a humanoid robot than can do all, even assist in 2 man jobs like putting up a shed?

That does not require a humanoid robot. A spider-type robot would probably be more effective.

And why not have a specialized robot for each task? You don't see too many hybrid microwave oven/vacuum cleaner/cars do you? Why build a general purpose robot that needs a vacuum cleaner so it can clean the house? You're back to buying individual machines AND a machine to operate them.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 8 months ago | (#46440237)

Why put 4-8 legs on a robot when 2 will do? We ourselves do just fine on 2. Maybe there's a case if it means 4 cheap, simple legs instead of 2 complex and expensive ones, but I doubt it.

And why a general purpose robot? Because it will probably end up being much cheaper than making a whole range of specialized robots effective. A Roomba will vacuum nicely, but it won't do the stairs, or move the chairs out of the way, or open the door to go into the next room after emptying its own bag. Sure, it could be made to do all those things having to do with vacuuming, but it would make it that much more complex.

You don't see too many hybrid microwave oven/vacuum cleaner/cars do you? Why build a general purpose robot that needs a vacuum cleaner so it can clean the house? You're back to buying individual machines AND a machine to operate them.

You kind of answered your own question there. It makes sense to separate functions into separate appliances, and that includes separating the highly complex part to give these tools the mobility, vision and smarts that enable them to do their tasks by themselves.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | about 8 months ago | (#46441891)

Why put 4-8 legs on a robot when 2 will do? We ourselves do just fine on 2.

We make do with 2. But it's only advantage is that we get to use what were formally our front legs to manipulate things. 4 legs + 2 arms would always outperform 2 legs + 2 arms.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 8 months ago | (#46441913)

But a 50% increase in limbs will raise the cost of the robot.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | about 8 months ago | (#46441965)

How much does a Segway cost compared to a 4 wheeled electric wheelchair? Don't underestimate the cost of the engineering required to balance on 2 feet.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 8 months ago | (#46440253)

And a humanoid robot can go where we go, which is useful... (think: stairs!).

So can cats and dogs.

Cats can also go places I can't and get over obstacles I have to go around.

Dogs can move _much_ faster then me.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 8 months ago | (#46440583)

It's not just moving around, but also reaching where we can reach, carry what we can carry, use our tools, etc. When versatile general purpose robots become feasible, I suspect that there will be many situations where the most practical robot form will be a humanoid one. A household robot is a prime example of that.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 8 months ago | (#46441047)

Sure, but there's no need for them to sit in our chairs or wear human sneakers and designer jeans.

Allowing a bit of leeway on the exact size/shape of the parts could make everything else a lot better (and cheaper).

In an environment where stairs are just the "emergency exit" (ie. most factories, hospitals, office buildings, apartments, etc.) then adding bipedal legs is pointless.

Re:Different jobs, different needs (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 8 months ago | (#46440641)

When I need to dust the house, I just wash the cat.

"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46439581)

She had wheels, so using her (egad, I'm anthropomorphizing!) as an example may not have been ideal.

But that said, having a robot that can utilize the same tools and work in the same environments that we do can be extremely practical, and in my opinion still well worth the effort, because that means that the same robot could potentially be repurposed for many different tasks merely by upgrading or installing different software on it... The applications for such robots extend far beyond those of mere household maintenance... the only reason that keeps coming up, is because that's just the most obvious common consumer application, and it's entirely understandable why it's desirable.

Not everyone lives in a one-floor apartment, after all.

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 8 months ago | (#46439629)

"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs ... She had wheels, so using her (egad, I'm anthropomorphizing!) as an example may not have been ideal.

Rosie was very good at what she did, but not quite the ideal. You should have seen the leggy "Hot French Maid 3000" model that Jane wouldn't let George get.

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (2, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 8 months ago | (#46439703)

Not everyone lives in a one-floor apartment, after all.

My cat isn't bipedal but has no problem with stairs. How weird is that?

And there's no way a robot could have a special rail to grab onto or a little elevator like granny has?

Bipeds are the only option!

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46439745)

Most places aren't fitted with such devices. The point that I was getting at is that by modelling a robot after humans you get an appliance that can, with nothing more than a software update or an installation of different software, work in all of the many different environments and use all of the same tools that humans do (or formerly did, as the process becomes increasingly automatic), obtaining an immediate practical application without requiring what can turn out to be a prohibitively costly expense to change the physical infrastructure.

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (3, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | about 8 months ago | (#46439963)

Yeah, but I'll retrofit my home for something way less cool than a robot. My house was built before cable and before home computer networks, so I'm getting good at pulling cable. My house was built before insulation and before power garage door openers, but those things were added. The kitchen has been completely refurbed to accommodate automatic dishwashers, microwaves, and garbage disposals. An upstairs laundry was retrofitted when that became fashionable. If you told me there was some robot that I could purchase that kept the house clean, took the trash out, and so on... I'd probably install the necessary retrofit - especially if that meant that I could have more features for the same price.

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46440155)

*YOU* might... most people would not.

The point would be to make something that can utilize existing infrastructure, so there will be immediate practical application. Over time the infrastructure could change to accommodate radically different styles of robots, but that would mean waiting far longer for prices to come down because the slowness of any wide scale adoption (due to the slowness at which infrastructure changes) would cause prices to stay much the same as they started.

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 8 months ago | (#46440377)

Actually, my point was that people (not just me) are very willing to retrofit their houses for something useful. All it takes is for a real estate agent to say to a seller that the house would be more marketable if it was "robot helper ready" or some such thing. I'm thinking along the lines of a track installed under the railing on a staircase, a new type of garbage drawer, or a charging station. Obviously major structural changes like access ramps would be another matter.

Re:"Rosie" from the Jetsons didn't have legs (1)

Hadlock (143607) | about 8 months ago | (#46442157)

The Jetsons also didn't have stairs, curbs, pedal controls and all the other obstacles that legs are really good at overcoming.

We already make robots without legs (4, Insightful)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about 8 months ago | (#46439591)

Tens of thousands of robots put together cars, furniture and other things every day. They don't have legs and most are bolted to a concrete floor and are little more than an arm.

The Roomba, Google's self-driving car, drones, spacecraft, the mars landers... we've made a shitload of robots that don't have legs. There's no shortage of non-legged robot research and production going on.

The CEO quoted in the article has a bug up his ass about one small area of R&D and is making idiotic excuses for why it should be eliminated. My hope is that gets in an accident and loses a leg. Maybe then he'll see the value in the R&D that's been done on robotic legs.

Re:We already make robots without legs (2)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46439621)

My hope is that gets in an accident and loses a leg.

That may be a little extreme, dontcha think?

The reason why robots patterned physically similarly to humans are a good idea is that such robots could easily be repurposed for many different types of tasks with nothing more than a change or upgrading of software, and using the same tools or working in the same environment as humans do (or did, but before times have necessarily changed enough to adapt around using robots instead of people) means that when such robots can finally be made, they can be immediately be utilized in existing infrastructure.

But legs are only needed in... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439653)

a couple of applications. Like driving a car or playing an organ. In a factory or office environment the requirement is usually to be able to move from here to there on a smooth (possibly carpeted) environment using a moderately small footprint, and the manipulate things at either a standing or sitting height. I'd have to think about opening doors though. That requires a bit of a reach if the door opens toward you. Feet are easier for this, doing it with a tracked or wheeled platform might require a bit more reach.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about 8 months ago | (#46439667)

A bit extreme, perhaps, but consider the end result; the CEO who thinks that wheels are better than legs would suddenly have to contend with being in a wheelchair (at least for a while) and would get direct experience with just how limited wheels are and how versatile legs are in comparison.

So maybe instead of losing a leg, he just breaks them both and has to be in a wheelchair for a couple months.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46439711)

Better, but I think that his arguments can be better refuted on a basis of reason than necessarily by appealing to emotion, which is the most that may be accomplished by his legs being out of commission (it might work, but it's far from ideal).

Re:We already make robots without legs (2)

afxgrin (208686) | about 8 months ago | (#46439685)

iRobot has no product-lines of humanoid robots, so of course they need to shit talk it.

It's as simple as that.

Re:We already make robots without legs (2)

Kjella (173770) | about 8 months ago | (#46439839)

As a businessman I think he is right, the human body is extremely complex because it tries to be a one size fits all solution to everything. Robots can be modular so instead of using a complex human hand to hold a hammer use a set of simple, cost-efficient special purpose robot tools. And you really don't need the human legs that can go on a mountain hike to navigate my living room floor. Basically solve one thing and solve it well and you can have a salable product rather than trying to solve everything, spend a bazillion in R&D and in the end maybe end up with something so complex and expensive that the market doesn't want it. I think he's advocating the Swiss army knife kind of robots, multitools but not trying to cover the entire human scope.That trying to "replicate" humans is more like basic research for robotics than the R&D to make products.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 8 months ago | (#46441931)

As a businessman I think he is right, the human body is extremely complex because it tries to be a one size fits all solution to everything.

That would be a pretty handy design feature in a robot as well. I don't want to buy a half-dozen robots to do different things if I can buy one that does everything.

do one thing and do it well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46443023)

what this slogan is trying to capture is elegance of design, which the human body has

Re:We already make robots without legs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440093)

There's no shortage of non-legged robot research and production going on.

That's not the point. His point is still clear: Achieving an anthropomorphic robot is too expensive a process for common use. That's why robots today are very minimalist, following function. And that function is tiny.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about 8 months ago | (#46440197)

That's not his point either. His point is that he thinks we should stop researching walking robots because they wouldn't work for making cheap vacuum cleaners To support his point, he makes the unfounded argument that research into walking robots is holding back the rest of the robotics field.

My point is that he's a short-sighted fool who is ignoring the fact that vacuum cleaners are not the end-all-be-all of robotics, nor are wheels always the best method of locomotion. My suggestion that he lose a leg (or have both broken) so that he spends some time in a wheelchair was a way of pointing out one of the most desirable outcomes of the research on walking robots; replacement of missing and damaged legs for humans.

Re:We already make robots without legs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440293)

It is true that there are goals which might be distracting don't you think?

A lot of the best ideas come from Academia and if said departments are stuck trying to produce humanoids that hurts us all, since we fund academic research out of general tax revenue.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 8 months ago | (#46440221)

I think he is talking mostly about academic research, which doesn't care much about using robots to make our lives easier.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

Alomex (148003) | about 8 months ago | (#46440277)

The CEO quoted in the article has a bug up his ass about one small area of R&D

Sure he does: that this type of robots never fail to impress noobs and starry eyed nerds in spite of their very limited progress.

Do you see a cool video of Honda robot's assemling a car? No, you get to see the clumsy useless ASIMO trudging around.

Re:We already make robots without legs (1)

Mashiki (184564) | about 8 months ago | (#46440915)

The CEO quoted in the article has a bug up his ass about one small area of R&D and is making idiotic excuses for why it should be eliminated.

What's funny is that the CEO says "they're too expensive for the masses" and I can easily look back to the time of: PC's/CDROM/CDplayer/VHS/Reel-to-Reel/Refrigerator and the automobile where CEO's said the same thing, and within 20 years they were so common that it looked like they grew out of the dirt.

I think this is a case of where tech can overcome (0)

rolfwind (528248) | about 8 months ago | (#46439615)

Idk all the obstacles to robots, but considering the story weeks ago on artificial muscles being built from fishing line and activated by heat in a way that was never really considered before for that application... I think technology can overcome this.

Tech cannot overcome everything (fundamental laws of physics) or provide quick fixes... but if nature can build a human or cat or whatever really cheap, I don't see why we can't do so artificially eventually.

I don't buy into the iRobot future - a bunch of crappy to mediocre (and very limited tools) integrated with their robot to provide a middling experience for a small subset of tasks. I can't see how we won't eventually transistion to a central unit like a walking robot using cheap or dedicated tools for the job.

It will take decades, but there's a lot of demand that some dedicated experimenters will try to supply.

Re:I think this is a case of where tech can overco (2)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46439647)

but if nature can build a human or cat or whatever really cheap...

Who says it was cheap?

Look at how many hundreds of millions of years it took.

Now equate that time to capital investment....

Still think nature did it cheaply?

Re:I think this is a case of where tech can overco (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439751)

The per unit costs on kittens is pretty low.
The capital investment was recouped at each stage over the hundreds of millions of years per evolution.
Yes, cheap.

Re:I think this is a case of where tech can overco (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440159)

You are forgetting that evolution has no goal. You cannot possible equate the two things.

Re:I think this is a case of where tech can overco (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 8 months ago | (#46440505)

I wasn't suggesting that it did... only that it took an awful long time for evolution to do it... and equating that amount of time to how much you'd have to pay a worker even just one lousy dollar a day for that amount of time, it's really not very cheap.

Re:I think this is a case of where tech can overco (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 8 months ago | (#46440251)

I don't think there is an intelligent, focused process at work behind evolution.

Expensive and Poorly made (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439643)

I got one of his Scooba 230 floor cleaners. He has a design and manufacturing flaw in the tube for the pump. The rotary pump head sits and pinches the tube to the point of collapsing it. First thing you need to do when you get it out of the box is to remove the base plate and work out the kink. Then the bladder got a hole after about 10 uses. They sent a new one, but damn they need to work on quality control.

I guess all the money goes into the robotics research and nothing goes into manufacturing. Smart brains, cheap parts.

I guess this makes it official ... (4, Funny)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | about 8 months ago | (#46439645)

... Daleks really are the pinnacle of evolution.

Re:I guess this makes it official ... (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 8 months ago | (#46439729)

Question: What do you get when you cross a Dalek with a Roomba?
Answer: EXTERMINATE!

Daleks and Stairs (1)

billstewart (78916) | about 8 months ago | (#46441283)

The original Daleks couldn't go up stairs, so they'd be useless in my place. But they do have a plunger arm, which can be occasionally useful.

Re:Daleks and Stairs (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | about 8 months ago | (#46441773)

So, are you suggesting that handicap access initiatives are actually paving the way for Dalek domination?

Re:Daleks and Stairs (1)

Strider- (39683) | about 8 months ago | (#46442833)

The original Daleks couldn't go up stairs, so they'd be useless in my place.

Daleks don't need to go up stairs. They just level the building instead.

anthropoid robots are very useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439683)

When you want to send a robot into an area designed for humans (like Fukushima power plant), having it able to go through hatches and doors, and climb ladders designed for humans, etc.

Sure iRobot has their cute little mini-tank PackBot, but it has real problems in a real disaster environment. It's pretty easy for things to form a "tank trap" from which the PackBot cannot climb.

Re:anthropoid robots are very useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441007)

Radiation areas are a very special case. It's damned hard to harden electronics any better than biological nervous systems, and the environment is so rare there's no possible economies of scale in designing something for it. Even the radiation hazards of space travel do not map well to those of a power plant disaster scenario.
            Saying that designing for the human factors of such an environment is desirable, while technically true, is realy meaningless, because you're talking about an Olympic level challenge, and you're glossing over the question of whether you start building your uber-athelete from, say, a relatively fit high school athelete, or a grossly overweight couch potato. We will be able to design functional medical and delivery robots, and probably even battlefield or astronaut robots, well before we can get a replacement for humans in Fukashima like environments, and we will doubtless base what works for a nuclear plant disaster on things that have worked in hospitals or citiy streets or the natural environments of at least somewhat less challenging situations first. That may or may not lead to human style walking.

the world also only needs 10 computers. (1)

strangeattraction (1058568) | about 8 months ago | (#46439699)

Many would debate whether the vacuum robots we can afford are worth it:)

Too expensive when not needed (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 8 months ago | (#46439737)

But for projects like this one [smartdoll.jp] , looking humanoid is the only goal.

But they need to move around in our environment (4, Insightful)

KeithJM (1024071) | about 8 months ago | (#46439769)

This is a very good point, and for robots designed for a single task that obviously makes sense. But if they have to be able to move around a house or office (with either stairs or an elevator with buttons to push), or open doors, or put dishes away from the dishwasher, etc -- they'll need to be shaped roughly like a human. The more human-shaped they are the more easily they can integrate into a world designed for human-shaped things to get things done. The alternative is to redesign everything in the world to make LESS convenient for people to use them.

A better way to put it is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440125)

We do not design our living and working spaces for robots, but for humans. Making robots conform to our current environment makes sense from that viewpoint. Quadrupeds, wheeled ones like Rosie from the Jetsons, tracked ones like Johnny 5, etc are designed for things other than human living environments really. Rosie is close but looking at her, she should have been stymied by a 2 inch step without some kind of equipment around to lift her up it.

So yes, there is a very good reason to design humanoid robots. Its easier than redesigning all our living spaces.

If I might posit this however, perhaps it would be a good thing to have places inaccessible to robots. When the robot uprising comes, that 2 inch step may be the only thing that saves your life. Down with legs, long live humans!

Re:A better way to put it is: (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 8 months ago | (#46440543)

So yes, there is a very good reason to design humanoid robots. Its easier than redesigning all our living spaces.

Maybe ... I don't see why that's a given.

A ceiling track for a small "industrial" robot with an arm, say, might be easier/cheaper than humanoid robots. I don't know that for sure, but I don't know that humanoid robots are easier for sure either.

Re:A better way to put it is: (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 8 months ago | (#46441951)

Might be, but in our living spaces there are other considerations as well, namely aesthetics. I don't want a robot track in my ceiling. Besides, that ceiling track won't be very handy for outside chores.

Re:But they need to move around in our environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440399)

Exactly. And legs are a far more versatile solution to subtle, all-terrain locomotion than tracks or wheels. Yes, it's a lot easier to bring *something* to market if you don't solve the hard problems, and restrict what you deliver - but I'd suggest that it's no coincidence whatsoever that the only real contender for the last few years for a true, all-terrain robot, the Boston Dynamics BigDog, has legs (as, indeed, do all of the company's other experimental models that I've seen videos of). I don't know how soon it will happen, but I genuinely think that robots capable of truly versatile behaviour in a human environment will come - and that they'll have legs, be of approximately human size and build, and be at least capable of (if not necessarily restricted to) bipedal locomotion. Because that's a game-changer, and I suspect there's a LOT of money up there for the company that cracks the challenge. And, ultimately, it's "merely" a problem of engineering.

Re:But they need to move around in our environment (1)

Xipher (868293) | about 8 months ago | (#46441049)

The more convenient you make it for the robot the more the robot can do instead of you. You interface with the robot, let it do the rest.

Re:But they need to move around in our environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441345)

Well I am not sure. If you look at Roomba it gets around well (except where carpets have fringes it eats the fringe due its tracked nature). So on a single floor a wheeled robot would seem to work (such as a kitchen robot). Given that wheel chairs can now climb steps, its clear that a robot could be built to do so. The buttons to push on a elevator take an arm but there at lots of robot arms around, likewise they can open doors handle dishes etc, its the arm that matters not the mobility platform. (wheels or legs).

Eh what? (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 8 months ago | (#46439849)

Take a look at what happens inside a cell. Plenty of rotating joints and tracks. Ribosomes and flagella anyone? Wheels, I grant that. But the reason is probably that at the molecular scale they make no sense

Re:Eh what? (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 8 months ago | (#46440429)

several creatures make a wheel of their body and roll:

for example golden wheel spiders do it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Eh what? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 8 months ago | (#46441537)

The flagellum has a wheel at it's base that allows the tail to rotate [wikipedia.org] , but they do not use them like the wheels on a cart. Spheres are more commonly used by nature as a kind of wheel, eg: tumble weeds roll around and spread seeds, armadillos and wood lice curl into a ball and roll away when attacked.

Re:Eh what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442077)

it's means it is.

The obvious solution... (1)

koan (80826) | about 8 months ago | (#46439971)

With over 8 billion people in a few years, and fewer jobs, the obvious solution is humans mounted with something along the lines of Google Glass, telling them what to do, where to go, how to do it, when to speak, etc.

You're hired, they give you Glass, the computer tells you what to do, "go put more toilet paper in the bathroom" "clean up the parking lot" etc, humans are cheap and disposable because there are so many of them.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

PPH (736903) | about 8 months ago | (#46440233)

And with my city's regulations on the disposal of electronic waste, humans are easier to get rid of when they wear out as well.

Just give them a gold watch (RoHS compliant, of course) and kick them out the door.

Re:The obvious solution... (1)

dhanson865 (1134161) | about 8 months ago | (#46440309)

where are my mod points now? koan needs a mod +1 insightful for this one.

I never thought of it that way but imagine a fast food place with a manager or two but no shift leaders or fewer shift leaders. Or imagine those poorly managed fast food places with a much more productive workforce. Imagine if the google glasses talked to each other and the store central computer decided there weren't enough bodys in motion and sent an email to the manager to hire more employees.

Of course it could also decide to send an email to a manager suggesting there were too many employees if I liked as well. Just so long as the manager can make the decision based on redundancy (as a positive aspect of reliability not as a pure cost only decision) and customer satisfaction.

who knows, maybe some day an employee will be making his complaint/suggestion to google glass as he works and the recording/email can be forwarded to the appropriate person.

The question is will it be any better than those mall clothing store employees with headset/radio calling the manager in the back? What store is that "The Gap", I think they made fun of those headsets on SNL also.

So many ways it could be better or worse. Knowing some companies they'll assume it does all the good things without any bad side and they'll alienate more workers but eventually when the tech is cheap enough even the good companies will find a use for it.

Re:The obvious solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442821)

The Glasses will allow time and motion study, add in rosters and leave times, employees contact numbers, employee performance measurements, plus access to HR application pools.
An App can now determine how many employees are required at any given time, and call up/hire) additional resources as/when required. No need for human error and bias, which co-incidentally removes the issue around discriminatory firings.

Moores Law (1)

James McGuigan (852772) | about 8 months ago | (#46439981)

If it becomes technically possible to build a fully functioning humanoid robot, regardless of the price, then one will be built. Once this happens, Moore's law will start to kick in, as will the cost benefits of mass production. In fact all you need to do is to build a self-replicating robot, and call it skynet.

  "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility." -- Lee DeForest, inventor.

Re:Moores Law (1)

Megol (3135005) | about 8 months ago | (#46440057)

First Moore's law isn't one. Second it have been modified so its predictive ability is less than commonly assumed. Third it assumes continued demand for new devices in order to finance development. Fourth it assumes technical problems will always be solved.

The last two haven't been true for some while and unless something radically different will appear soon silicon technology will have much less advances in the near future.

Oh, Fifth: Moore's law applies to a specific case and there is no indication any other technical development will ever follow the same type of advancement curve.

Not too expensive (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440081)

It's not too expensive, it's just ahead of its time. The first microwave, VCR, PC... were all super expensive at the start. Cost scales to volume, if your only making one at a time, then yeah it's expensive. If your building them by the millions, then their cheap. The problem is... (Drumroll)... -NO KILLER APP- ( no pun intended) lol.

Turing Test (1)

codeButcher (223668) | about 8 months ago | (#46440145)

A lot of comments mention that it would make sense to make a robot along the same pattern as a human: Can use same tools, access same spaces, etc. etc. My question is: if your {AI | robot} can't be distinguished from a real human, why can't you just use a (cheap, ubiquitous) human? Answer: we invent machines precisely to augment our abilities, to do what we aren't so good at: computing faster and less error-prone, be stronger, access spaces we can't, don't get bored, tired, damaged by some harsh environments, etc. etc.

I'm with Angle: see what job (or collection of jobs) your machine needs to perform, then build the best possible machine given the contraints, for that job/s. (Not that they have achieved it with the floor suckers, but hey...)

Re:Turing Test (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 8 months ago | (#46441967)

My question is: if your {AI | robot} can't be distinguished from a real human, why can't you just use a (cheap, ubiquitous) human?

Where did you get the idea humans are cheap? Robots will only become household items when they're less expensive than servants. That's the whole point.

It isn't rocket science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440175)

It can't be that difficult to make a humanoid robot that can balance on two legs, walk, run, pick up things, etc. just like a human does. Notice how long it takes a baby to learn to walk. Obviously it isn't easy when you've never done it before, I'm sure a robot can learn it in exactly the same way a human baby does, through trial and error. The great news is that once the robot has learnt how to walk, no future robots need to LEARN, they just use the same method that the walking robot uses.

Frinkiac-7 (2)

steak (145650) | about 8 months ago | (#46440271)

I predict that within 100 years, robots will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them.

Re:Frinkiac-7 (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 8 months ago | (#46440435)

a similar prediction about computers turned out to be true, if you consider the huge clustered installations for weather, code breaking, nuclear bomb simulation

WOW! Legless Robot Co. says legs are overrated! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440409)

Incredible!

I'm disappointed to hear him say that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440665)

people will be printing their own robots in 50 years or less in a local (or home) printing shack.

Might just be PR to undercut competition? (4, Insightful)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 8 months ago | (#46440979)

Maybe I'm reading into it a bit, but I doubt the guy is so obtuse that he doesn't realize there's enough money to go around for the various forms of locomotion. I think this is just some defensive posturing he's doing in public to try and paint his company's products in a better light against the soon-to-be competition.

Here's what I see:
1) iRobot is a major supplier of defense and security robots currently in use by the US military [irobot.com] .
2) iRobot's entire lineup is based on wheeled or treaded robots. There's no indications of them being anywhere close to fielding a walking robot of any sort.
3) Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics [bostondynamics.com] , a small company that wasn't yet a credible threat, has been working on both bipedal [bostondynamics.com] and quadrupedal [bostondynamics.com] robots [bostondynamics.com] for DARPA that are to the point where they're being field tested by the military.
4) Then, Google bought Boston Dynamics [nytimes.com] , meaning it suddenly has far more resources available to it than before, making them a much more credible threat.
5) And now, shortly thereafter, iRobot's CEO suddenly comes out trashing the technology used by the competition, just as that technology is reaching a point where it can start entering the market.

As I said, I might be reading into it a bit, but the timing and notions just seem weird. For instance, going back to the summary (emphasis mine):

The reason it has taken so long for the robotics industry to move forward is because people keep trying to make something that is cool but difficult to achieve, rather than trying to find solutions to actual human problems.

This is pretty clearly posturing on his part, since he has to be aware that none of his Roomba products can navigate stairs, an extremely basic and common component of building interiors. It's obvious that his products are not offering "solutions to actual human problems", or at least not to all of the problems, and he's scared that others will realize it too. It's good that he is, since his company isn't set up to deal with it, from what we know publicly.

Re:Might just be PR to undercut competition? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 8 months ago | (#46441737)

I think you have nailed it. I first saw "big dog" a few years back and was very impressed so you had me convinced at point 1. I was unaware google had bought the company.

As I said, I might be reading into it a bit, but the timing and notions just seem weird.

I don't think you are misreading anything, most politicians and CEO are smart people, they say stupid things that they themselves do not believe for a reason. Notice how he doesn't mention Boston Dynamics directly, this is because politics and big business are a "gentleman's game", and a gentleman will play the idea, not the man.

The bullshit is motivated by the desire to "capture the market".The truth is that the ideas are complementary rather than competitive, and the robot market is already big enough to support both ideas, even though the demand for stationary manufacturing robots will probably always be higher than it is for "beast of burden" robots. For instance, you wouldn't use big dog to move stuff around in a large military warehouse, just as you wouldn't use a robotic forklift to carry stuff to front line troops in a war zone.

I started my working life in the mid-seventies, back then people thought robots would eventually take over manufacturing. They believed that this would cause working hours to drop well below the standard 40hr week. To a large extent robots have now taken over manufacturing, mining, finance and telecoms, to name a few industries. The shorter week never happened, mass unemployment did not materialise. My question is what the fuck is everybody doing for a job these days? - Servicing robots?

Too late to buy Boston Dynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441043)

Your stupid roomba is half the reason to build something with legs. PS. boston dynamics was doing great things with legs. Sure it's expensive, but all things in R&D are. iRobothttp://hardware.slashdot.org/story/14/03/09/1327215/irobot-ceo-humanoid-robots-too-expensive-to-be-the-norm# is just regretting that they should have bought Boston Dynamics!

..."expensive"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441301)

Why, just a few stories down people are in all seriousness proposing sending a 3D printer to Mars to (gloriously!) colonize it.

I assume this means 3D printers can now print out complete, functional items from thin air, sunbeams and rainfall.

So, what does expensive mean in our glorious post-scarcity, post-industrial, post-engineering (Hey! Just download and print!) society?

Maybe right now, but wrong in the long run. (1)

DoninIN (115418) | about 8 months ago | (#46441661)

Look, the other day I watched a backhoe, barely bigger than a vending machine digging the smallest section of drainage ditch. I'm tempted to just rattle off a bunch of buzzwords and say synergy and 3D printing etc sixteen times. But the increasing complexity, intelligence and sophistication of computing power, software, sensors and things like servomotors is growing at a... Exponential? (Geometric?) INCREDIBLE rate and at some point, sooner than even I think, ten, fifteen years at the max, humanoid robots will be so cheap that they will, in fact be cheaper than actual humans. At that point the problem isn't how to develop and employ them, it's what to do with the 90% of humanity that can't do any job cheaper than a robot. The only jobs left right now are. 1: Guy that does a job robot cannot do. Doctor, Lawyer, Scientist, politician. 2: Robot trainer 3: Robot Repairman (See #1) 4: Guy who does a job cheaper than a robot, or a job a robot isn't willing to do. (These jobs suck ass.) AI, like Watson will continue to shrink categories, 1 and 2, and eventually category 3 will be taken over by robots. This is the real robot apocalypse, not murderous killbots, but they will have "TOOK R JOBS" and only folks who own the robots will have any realistic way to make money. The good news, for me, is that I'm kind of old, so it won't crush me. The bad news is that you probably aren't. We need to figure this out, now.

CEO is off on this one (1)

bstoneaz (661994) | about 8 months ago | (#46441815)

General humanoid robots in mass production are going to happen; it's just a matter of when and there will be ridiculous prices for the first ones that work. This should happen in less than 40 years and I'm hoping much sooner. The iRobot CEO seems to think specialized robots are going to be the norm.

Mother Nature does have wheel! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442239)

"Mother Nature has created many wonderful things but one thing we do have that nature doesn't is the wheel, a continuous rotating joint, and tracks"

Very recently though there was a finding that some insects in the early stage have wheels in their rear legs to hop. He surely wasn't informed such wonderful finding.

The über power source is missing (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 8 months ago | (#46442763)

Until somebody comes up with the über power source, all of this stuff is academic. Sure, I can build the Aliens Power Loader but it has to be connected to a big ass generator to work.

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