Are humanoid robots even a good idea? After all, they can’t do much, tend to be either smart or strong but not both, need recharging frequently, and creep people out. What’s more, most of the humanoid robots so far are not practical. People get excited about a humanoid robot that can mimic human facial expressions, walk up stairs, or lift things slowly and not very consistently. In other words, the high-priced and high-powered humanoid robots we’ve seen so far can do almost as well at daily tasks as a five year old human.
Why exactly do we find that exciting?
But researchers at Texas robotics company Apptronik think they’ve got all that worked out. Their new robot, Apollo, is intended to be “the iPhone of humanoid robots.”
Based on Valkyrie
Apollo is based on NASA’s Valkyrie, a buxom 6-foot, 300 pound robot that NASA considers the most advanced humanoid robot ever. Apollo is man-sized, though, at 5’8″ and 160 lbs. It has an intentionally friendly look and is designed to work safely alongside human beings. It has a four-hour battery and is designed to be mass-produced, and can lift 55 pounds. It’s electric rather than hydraulic for safety and ease of use. Right away, it’s more practical than most.
It’s less creepy than most, too. It has a minimalist face so it won’t trigger the uncanny valley response, but it uses cues like turning its face in the direction it’s about to move in so that people will not be startled by its movements. In other words, its face doesn’t look like a human face, but it uses its face for communication in ways that people do.
It has LED screens in its mouth, chest, and head to facilitate communication. It also has programmable safety features, such as an adjustable perimeter and a range of behaviors when something enters that space.
Apollo is intended to be an all-purpose robot. Its first use cases are in warehouses, where it can fetch and carry, and factories where it can palletize and perform other routine tasks. Relying on sensors and cameras in combination with AI and machine learning, Apollo doesn’t require precision programming like industrial robots. The makers expect that it will be able to do thousands of different things. They plan to sell Apollo for the price of a car when they get fully productive.
The Tesla Optimus is also intended to be an all-purpose humanoid robot and Musk has outlined similar future plans.
It will be interesting to see who reaches that point first.
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