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Future Tech: 

Meet Han, the realistic robot who can emote

"Hi, I'm Han. I'm from a little village east of the Uncanny Valley."

“Hi, I’m Han. I’m from a little village east of the Uncanny Valley.”

Robots at the moment, with the best will in the world, look like robots. Which is fine: there’s something to be said about the cutesy metallic kind, but it would be nice if we could create human-looking realistic robots – for pranks if nothing else. We don’t want it to get too ‘Blade Runner’, but somewhere between C3PO and Commander Data is a sweet spot we’re after. Hanson Robotics may have overshot this target a little bit with Han, the realistic robot with a remarkably malleable face.

Fortunately, he’s just a head on a transparent body for now, otherwise we’d be in the uncomfortable position of trying to figure out if the bizarre, stilted non-sequiturs coming out of his mouth were down to programing algorithms, or a really odd personality. It’s even more convincing in motion. Take a quick break to watch the video below and see for yourself. Go ahead – we’ll wait.

That impressive facial elasticity is the result of 40 motors connected to the ‘frubber’ (not a so-so Robin Williams movie, but a contraction of ‘fresh rubber’) skin.  Through this, Han can deliver a surprising…

han

– yes, thankyou Han – a surprising range of emotions, from happy and sad, to drunk or flirtatious. Fortunately, Han can detect just how distressing those particular states are likely to be to human visitors. He’s got several cameras embedded in his eyes and chest which help him establish how old and what gender the person interacting with him is, as well as how they’re feeling. Which we’re willing to bet will quite often be ‘creeped out.’

So, what’s the realistic robot’s likely role in life, as soon as he either gets more frubber to cover his torso, or puts a shirt on? According to Grace Copplestone, product manager at Hanson Robotics, plenty of front-of-house style service openings beckon for a gregarious bot like Han: “There are three markets we are really excited about,” she told Reuters. “One is hospitality, so for example, the receptionist behind desk and hotels. The second one is entertainment, so casinos, theme parks and museums.”

“And the third is health care, and that’s in two ways. One is medical simulation. If you can provide doctors with mannequins that have very realistic facial expressions on them, that provides a very beneficial piece of training to the doctor, and the mannequin can travel over the world to do that. Another area of medical care is for the elderly. We believe a human face on a robot makes it far more approachable, and efficient, and effective in caring for older people.”

We’re not entirely convinced you want your doctor to be able to act drunk in front of elderly patients – and flirtatious sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen – but there’s no denying that the technology in Han is extremely impressive. Hanson Robotics is planning on making a female realistic robot soon, christened Eva. No price has yet been revealed.

Realistic robots: futuristic brilliance, or fundamentally creepy? We’d love to get your thoughts in the comments.

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