Technology

The Body Shop: Where Life-Like Androids Are Born

Hanson Robotics is one of the world's foremost creators of life-like androids. When robots finally break through the notorious uncanny valley once and for all, it may well be one of Hanson's works reaching that promised land.

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Hanson Robotics is one of the world's foremost creators of life-like androids. This gallery reveals how their robots are built and also where they're built: a quirky workspace in the home of founder Evan Hanson in Richardson, Texas.

This image shows the front view of an android designed to look and act like Bina Rothblatt. Its skin is made of a spongy elastic plymer called Frubber, which allows the kind of refined facial expressions that will be necessary, Hanson says, for humans to relate to and connect emotionally with their android counterparts.

Also see Bruno Maddox's related essay on the complicated relationship between humans and androids.

Circuitry used by Hanson Robotics to animate the Rothblatt android. Control software that incorporates data about Rothblatt's life and personality allows the android to interact conversationally with humans, a chief goal of company founder David Hanson.

A plastic prototype skull for an Einstein robot--Hanson's second--which was delivered to the Machine Perception Lab at the University of California at San Diego last year. Complex machine-vision software enables the robot to recognize human facial expressions and to react appropriately.

A plastic model of Hanson's original Einstein robot, Albert-Hubo, marked up to show the cables that were developed to control its facial expressions.

A living room fireplace doubles as a tool rack at Hanson Robotics, based in a suburban Dallas house where David Hanson lives with his wife and young son. Seven full-time staff members plus an array of part-timers and volunteers come and go seven days a week, often working until 3 a.m. "My wife is supportive," Hanson says, "but sometimes all the activity freaks her out." Here, Kevin Carpenter models hardware in computer 3-D as Katherine Batiste works on Zeno's hair.

Components of Zeno, a robot that David Hanson is developing for the consumer market, on a workbench in his lab. His company promises that Zeno will not only sit and walk but also understand speech, remember conversations, make eye contact, know people by name, and recognize faces. Starting price: about $2,500. The company also plans a smaller, simpler version for around $300.

Hanson with a prototype of Zeno, which should be available by next year. The roboticist hopes that his bot's story line--involving a time in the future when Zeno becomes conscious--and its friendly interactions will encourage a bond between human and machine.

Joey Chaos, a robot developed by Hanson in 2007. It has the personality of an edgy, hypersexualized punk rocker "who isn't afraid to be a jerk," he says. Witty and irreverent, the character represented a step forward in the company's conversational software.

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