Since its first appearance in 2016, the humanoid bot Sophia has become something of a celebrity. Sophia’s android body and face are realistic to the point that some say “she” makes then feel uncomfortable. This uneasiness triggered by hyperrealistic humanoid bots has been dubbed the “uncanny valley” — a concept attributed to Japanese robotics researcher Masahiro Mori and popularized in Jasia Reichardt’s 1978 book Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction.
Empowered by advances in AI and robotics tech, the machines that populate the “uncanny valley” continue to grow in number and — many believe — in creepiness.
For the last year, the flagship magazine and website of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — IEEE Spectrum — has been cataloging humanoids, drones, exoskeletons, quadrupeds, and other kinds of robots. It’s a fun collection, and like in any other catalog, each robot profile includes photos, videos, curious facts and technical specifications. Based on users’ votes, IEEE Spectrum also compiles rankings of today’s Top Rated, Most Wanted, and Creepiest Robots.
Join Synced as we take a stroll through the uncanny valley and meet the world’s top-three creepiest robots.
Researchers from Osaka University and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) developed Telenoid as a robotic communications device that users can connect to the robot via the Internet. It can mimic a human’s voice, face and head motions. Something like a cross between a mobile phone and Casper the Friendly Ghost, Telenoid was designed by Hiroshi Ishiguro, and sells for US$8,000, with a research version priced at US$35,000.
By the way, Ishiguro also created his own robotic doppelgänger, Geminoid HI-1, which comes in at No.9 in the rankings.
Creator: Osaka University
Despite its alien, rubbery grey appearance, CB2 is deigned to mimic a child and can be used to train new parents. It has cameras in its eyes, tactile sensors under its skin, flexible actuators, and can produce childlike sounds and motions. The heavily dependent bot can stand up, but only “with assistance from a human.”
Country: United States
Creator: UC San Diego, Kokoro, and HansonRobotics
Researchers designed Diego-san to study cognitive development in young children. Its disproportionately large head is packed with machinery that enables a variety of facial expressions. The IEEE notes however that “At 30 kg (66 lb) and over 1.2m (4 ft) tall, Diego-san is significantly larger than your average 1-year-old human.”
The IEEE robots site also offers an interactive game called Faceoff, which quizzes users’ preferences on pairs of bots under different social contexts. Some of the questions themselves can get a bit creepy:
Journalist: Fangyu Cai | Editor: Michael Sarazen