It sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel: a robot designed to look like a human and mimic real movements, speech, and actions. But this isn’t a creation in some fictional universe—this is real life. Humanoid robots are being designed by robotics companies around the world, and the results are staggeringly lifelike creations. Humanoid robots are designed to serve many purposes, including working in delivery, healthcare, therapy, education, and customer service. And according to industry experts, within a few decades besides interacting with us these robots will take over millions of human jobs. Humanoid robots are evolving every day, but here are four that are leading the pack:
Mark 1 – the Scarlett Johansson Look Alike Robot
Robotic technology is developing at an outstanding pace, and new developments help increase the capabilities while lowering the price and time it takes to develop. Take for example the Mark 1 robot, which was designed almost entirely with a mainstream 3D printer for just $50,000. Ricky Ma, a product designer from Hong Kong, made the robot to look like his favorite actress Scarlett Johansson with a body that is 70% made from 3D printing and covered in silicone. Even with a relatively low price tag, Mark 1 has the technology to move her eyebrows and face in response to spoken vocal cues.
Sophia – The Female Robot with Human Facial Expressions
One of the most buzz-worthy humanoid robots is Sophia, who was introduced at this year’s SXSW to rave reviews. Designed to imitate human facial expressions, Sophia has cameras behind her eyes that, when used with a special algorithm, allow her to make eye contact with people and respond to their movements. Sophia can understand speech and hold a basic conversation with a human. What really sets her apart is her ability to remember a person’s face and her interactions with them, which allows her to build on past experiences and get smarter over time. Sophia’s creator, Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, says the goal is for Sophia to someday be as capable as any human and perhaps even attend school. For now, the aim is to connect humans with technology and bridge the gap between what humans are naturally capable of and what technology has the potential to create.
Val – NASA’s Robot Headed for Mars
Humanoid robots truly have the potential to change the landscape of many industries. Although it’s in the relatively early stages, NASA is developing a team of sister humanoid robots with the idea that the robots can some day travel to Mars to set up colonies and equipment before human astronauts arrive. The Valkyrie project, led by a robot named Val, consists of four robots, but three are currently on loan to universities around the world to work out some of the kinks. Standing nearly six feet tall, the robots have the potential to mimic human actions as they work in harsh Martian environments. If all goes correctly, NASA could even expand the project to create similar robots that work in disaster relief or defense.
Pepper – The Charismatic Social Butterfly
Humanoid robots don’t have to be all work and no play. One of the first mass-produced and commercially sold humanoid robots is designed to offer largely social functions. Pepper, a small plastic robot on wheels, was designed by Softbank Robotics and went on the market in Japan last summer. The first batch of 1,000 prototypes sold for 198,000 yen (around $1,800 U.S. dollars) and sold out within minutes. Pepper can read human emotion and express empathy and appropriate speech in return. With a tablet device attached to her chest, Pepper can great guests, propose games and activities, take pictures, and more. In a home setting, she is designed to be a welcoming and connecting presence between family and friends. Pepper will continue distribution in a more commercial setting when she launches to stores, train stations, and information stands in Japan and France as a greeter and employee; a cell phone company in Japan even has plans to staff its entire store with Pepper robots. And get ready for Pepper to come to America—she will launch in the U.S. in late 2016.
With humanoid robots, the future is now. As developers continue to innovate and increase the abilities and appearance of their machines, there’s no limit to what these robots can do.