Android Robotics up to 2019: The real story; in 5 parts; part 4

    This post is a continuation of the first, the second, and the third parts of the real story of Android Robotics describing the field from the beginning up to 2019.

    Now, let's continue the exploration of android robotics outside of Japan. The latest appearance of a new android project happened last year in Germany. Elenoide was developed by Darmstadt Technical University (Technischen Universität Darmstadt, TUD) and is used for the research of human-robot interaction in the «Leap in time» laboratory in Darmstadt. «Leap in time» is focused on researching into the future of workplaces, and an android seems quite a suitable addition to their collection of equipment, alongside with a humanoid robot Pepper and a VR set.

    After Japan begun to appear in the news with their news androids, their closest neighbour, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) could not stay behind. Korea after all is the country with the largest amount of industrial robots per capita, and it was a Korean team which won the latest DARPA challenge, team KAIST with DRC-HUBO. While some of android robots were created at around 2006 by Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the main project is the EveR series developed under the guidance of professor Baek Moon Hong at Korea Institute of Industrial Technology (KITECH). EveR-1, the first robot of the series, was shown to the public in May 2006. EveR-1 was similar to the first Actroid, most of the time it seems she performed a pre-recorded routine, but there were some autonomous capabilities. There exists a mention that EveR-1 cost $321,000 to build, but i am not sure about the source of that.

    Later this year, the updated version was released, called EveR-2 or EveR-2-Muse, shown on Robot World in October 2006. The «Muse» was a reference to this robot being planned as a singer. Unlike her older sister she was standing, and the number of degrees of freedom was increased. Unfortunately, the first show was not successful, as during transportation either the connectivity to the head, or mechanics in the head were damaged, and her first performance happened without facial animation. She later performed in full working order, and even featured in a music clip, but about a year later, in 2009, the next model came onto the spotlight with EveR-2 completely forgotten.

    EveR-3 was the first mobile robot of the EveR series which had a wheel base cleverly hidden beneath a long Korean skirt, this allowed for new type of performances. Before EveR there existed a lot of wheel-based humanoid robots, for example a similar in shape Ballroom Partner Dancing Robot (BPDR) by System Robotics Laboratory of Tohoku University School of Engineering. BPDR was a research robot that was supposed to be used for teaching dancing, but while the research on BPDR and successor robots still remains purely academic, EveR-3 appeared on stage in a proof-of-concept children play based on Snow White featuring EveR-3 as a Robot Princess. At the stage EveR-3 was teleoperated.

    The last appearance of EveR-3 was in Dubai in November 2016, where she was brought on a publicity stunt for the immigration bureau. Out of the idea of a wheel-based performing robot Ari-1 was born at around 2011, a more cartoonish-looking android, with the look more suitable for avoiding the uncanny valley by staying «before» the «drop». Under the guidance of KoIAN, a «creative media and robotics experts group» and a company Solubot, Ari performed at multiple events, and had the main role for a Robotland peformance. There, she too likely was teleoperated, but the voice routine and lip-syncing likely was pre-recorded. Not sure, if the performance have any connection to a failed 2013 project to build a robot themed theme park with the same name at Incheon.

    KITECH continued developing the project and at the same time as Ari they had build a new robot EveR-4, this time with a static base and a new head. Presumably, multiple heads were produced, as i seen mention of EveR-4 head being used for research in Auckland University in 2017. EveR-4 performed a pre-recorded routine at Expo 2012 at Yeosu, and like the previous EveR robots was used for research inside KAIST. She appeared at some events afterwards as well.

    The latest of EveR series was EveR-5 shown to the public in March 2018, at a proof-of-concept opera performance at Daegu opera where she played a pre-recorded routine with an operator in control. With EveR series being used as a proof-of-concept and for occasional research, most likely the project will continue, and the interest of financing the project seems to continue as well despite numerous other robotics projects at KAIST.

    South of South Korea, in the Republic of China, the first experimental androids were developed as a proof-of-concept at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology in 2008. The research team of the professor Chyi-Yeu Lin had produced two robot heads that were placed on a bulky bodies. Just as an experiment they were used in a play of Romeo and Juliet, leading to the headlines of being the «first kissing robots». Since then the university had produced a few more android robot heads, but likely, as the proof-of-concept project was finished, similar to Ibn Sina, the laboratory switched to new projects.

    It is occasionally mentioned online that the first android in People's Republic of China was Meinü or Miss Rong Cheng created by the Sichuan Robot Research Center at the Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, but another argument can be said for Dion by Beijing Yuanda Super Robot Technology Co., Ltd. (北京遠大超人機器人科技有限公司). Both robots were first shown in 2006, although the first one was a much more advanced project, a fully animated body on a wheel base, while Dion and other robots by BJYDCR (for some reason when their website was on, this was the abbreviation) were nothing more than the simplest animaronics. On the video is a news clip about Meinü.

    Finding info on Chinese robots in general, confirming or denying any facts is much harder than even in Korean or Japanese speaking part of the internet. Not only P.R. China is reluctant to openness, with robotics businesses rarely even crossing the Yellow Sea and appearing on even the Japanese exhibitions, and academia barely having any interest to getting known outside the country, P.R. China is famously isolated under the «Great Firewall», with content to be found only on local Chinese websites, which often lack in quality, and even in search functions.

    Footage from exhibitions and events is quite useful, but people in P.R. China have less cameras, and publish the recordings less often. Even with a recent growth in ownership of smartphones with good-quality cameras most people tend to publish their short recordings via apps such as Kuaishou or Kwai, which lack any proper search functions, being even worse than Instagram. Even «large» video-hosting websites such as Bilibili, iQiyi Youku, Tudou, v.QQ, might have troubles with their search engines, and videos get copied and re-uploaded between each website, always without attribution, often with names changed and watermarks covered, in such a way, that it gets near-impossible in most cases to find the original recording.

    This could explain why i don't have a hard evidence which group or company or institution had built three musician robots that i consider one of the finest android builds in P.R. China. First of musician robots, a harp player, and not an android robot, appeared in 2005 at China Industry Fair, and it was designed by Shanghai Electric Group. The next couple of robots, which were androids on the wheel base, with one playing clarinet and other playing a flute, were likely created by Chinese Academy of Engineering for Shanghai Electric Group. These two robots were displayed in 2006, but no video footage, not at least one i can find exists, only photos. (The one below comes from an unknown source).

    The final version, three musician robots, «Robot Woman National Band» appeared on two exhibitions, with the last being 2010 China International Industry Expo, and the first appearance happening a year or two before, the video below is from there. The maker could be Zigong City Boyi Art Co., but no certainty here. Three, partially-electrically and partially air-powered robots, perform a synced pre-recorded routine of playing a few Chinese tunes. Like with Jaquet-Droz Musician, it is fascinating to see a robot play music on a real instrument even if it is a pre-recoding routine. The robot in the back plays a a zhongruan, the robot in the centre plays a yangqin, and the robot in the front, arguably the most impressive of the three, plays a hulusi.

    A number of musician robots playing yangqin was created, presumably by different makers, with the robot on the video below, advertised by Centology corporation, performed a number of pre-recorded routines at Sichuan Science Museum in Chengdu. There also was a band of non-android robots, and there is some evidence that these might have been made by the same people who made the three musicians from the previous video. The band was mostly scrapped during the recent reconstruction of the museum (only one robot remains as a display piece), but the musician is still exhibited, but unfortunately, remained static at the time i visited the museum in November 2017 on my way to Japan. I have seen mentions of similar robots in Hunan Science Museum and in Guangxi Science Museum, as well as mentions of appearance of similar robots on other exhibitions.

    Beginning from about 2012, a number of commercial android projects had appeared. There are three main ways for a company in P.R. China to enter an android market. It could be a wax figure company that wants to expand into android robotics as a way to sell more fancy figures to a growing number of celebrity museums. It could be a robotics company selling stuff like optically controlled tray-carrying robots that wants to have a greeting robot as the lead product in their line. It could be a love doll company that wants to invest into a newly appearing field of love robotics, the last we'll explore after the first two.

    Here are, top to bottom, are some examples of androids listed by the name of companies that produced them or have them for rent. Most likely, most of the videos come from the manufacturers. First come the initially-robotics companies — Boole-Tech (博乐机器人表演), Keenon Robot (擎朗机器人), Happy Flying Robot (欢乐飞机器人), an unknown one, Pagnolin Robot (穿山甲机器人), JINGHONG Robot Research and Development (上海惊鸿机器人), Aibe Robot (艾比仿生机器人). Then are the wax figure companies — Laxiang (河南蜡人张文化艺术有限公司) and Chaoren Superman (西安超人雕塑研究院). The last two videos come from the manufacturers.

    In 2015, a Macau based company Paradise Entertainment Technology had shown an interesting concept of having an android-esque robot as a poker dealer, a way to cut on stuff, and|or provide more real poker under a video poker regulations, in 2016 technology was transferred to International Game Technology, but no practical implementation or any publicity since then. (The video is by Bloomberg, copied from Getty Images).

    One of the more impressive projects of recent years are three robots by Beijing Ganwei Robot (北京甘为乐博科技有限公司) which were shown at around 2016. These three robots, all electric motor powered, were exhibited on different events. The first is Xi Shi Gao simulation robot (西施高仿真机器人), modelled after an unfamiliar name to me. The second is Ge Honggao simulation robot (葛洪高仿真机器人) modelled after a dsoist scholar of the same name of Eastern Jin Dynasty who lived from 284 to 343|364 AD. The third is Wang Yangming simulation robot (王阳明机器人) modelled after a neo-confucian scholar and calligrapher who lived in Ming China from 1472 to 1529. At some exhibitions it was possible to «ask» via a tablet for Wang Yangmin robot to draw a specific character or phrase by drawing it yourself, and he was to repeat. The videos come from the manufacturer.

    The most advertised of Chinese androids is JiaJia created under a guidance of Chen Xiaoping in the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei a couple of years ago. JiaJia was made known overseas due to coverage by Xinhua, the official government press agency of P.R. China, but apart from these news reports, nothing much is known of the robot, which presumably is created to do some research, and has some kind of pseudo-AI. Recently, a second robot with the same look was shown as a proof-of-concept of a doctor assistant robot, who could for example work at an information booth in a hospital.

    To speak about the love doll companies turning to robotics, it would be fair to begin the story about the love doll automation in general. The topic of «sex robots» is quite heated this days, and most often the discussion is based on the lack of knowledge, and news articles are based upon the phraseology that would just attract as much clicks as possible.

    Beginning in mid-90s, the newly-created love doll industry that formed in Japan and the US focused on creating more realistic dolls compared to rubber toys of the past. Note how a term of «love doll» instead of «sex doll» is used here, and that is mostly because neither do the people in business, nor the owners, tend to use this term.

    Contrary to popular beliefs that lead to portray doll owners as losers living in parent's basements, the owners of dolls tend to be upper middle class, and this is no wonder, since the more traditional silicone dolls can cost up to $7000 and begin selling for at least $3000, while a more cheaper thermoelastic polymer dolls usually are priced beginning from $1500.

    While most of the owners are straight men, the buyer market is not empty from women and gay men. Curiously, as David Levy mentions in his book «Love and Sex with Robots» (probably the first book written on the topic of robosexuality as back as in 2007) it is women who make up the majority of the user base of sex gadgets, and in the future women are quite likely to adapt robotic love dolls too.

    Another belief which usually is associated with doll owners, is of how the dolls are supposedly abused, used to fulfil the darkest desires of the people. In reality, perhaps unsurprisingly, if you look at the price and demographic, more often than not the owners treat their dolls with utmost respect. (After all, a person, who has a beloved Commodore 64 or an Apple II would not probably hit the keyboard). In some cases people get dolls without even planning to have sex, as hand-manufactured dolls can be seen if not as a piece of art, but at least as a piece of artisan greatness.

    Both the doll community and doll manufacturers tend to be quite open, and often agree on interviews and appearance in documentaries just to spread the knowledge, despite the possibility of being portrayed negatively and receiving some unpleasant comments. Sytnthetic advocates like Davecat from the US appeared in hundreds of articles and a lot of documentaries.

    The first business of selling animated love dolls appeared in Germany in early 2000s. German sculptor under a nickname «Creator» had made a series of love dolls with increased animation under a brand «First Androids» beginning with a doll named Andy, and continuing with Loly, Evy, Linny and Neira. Due to, well, obvious reasons, only a photograph (of Neira, sourced from First-Androids) will be shown instead of a video.

    The business was not proved sustainable due to low demand and high production cost. A robot by Creator likely were to cost a buyer at maybe $10000 dollars, and i have seen only a couple of mentions of his robots being sold. Additional issue was his location — at the time, most of the doll enthusiasts lived in Japan and the US. After his workshop was burglarised he quietly closed his business.

    Beginning from about 2007, a company under a name McMill Cybernetics attempted to construct animated sex dolls, creating first a female prototype, and then a female and a male dolls that were supposed to be put on sale in a few years. With the dolls not being up to quality aesthetic wise, and presumably, with a high cost, the website went silent at around 2010.

    Quite an infamous project that appeared at the same time would be a project of Douglas Hines, an ex-employee of Bell Labs. His robot named Roxxxy was advertised as purely for sex, was shown in 2010 at AVN Adult Expo much to negative reviews. The only animation was of the face, and the quality was not remotely decent. Even if he later updated his robots, his project disappeared into obscurity.

    Recently, quite a storm was unleashed on Sergi Santos and Maritsa Kissamitaki, a family of hobby engineers animating love dolls under a name of Synthea Amatus. They went silent in 2017 after a falsified story how «horny men destroyed the robot» on an exhibition with titles such as «damage to Samantha sex robot shows male aggression being normalised» and «dolls invite abusive treatment».

    It takes quite a courage, as it turns out, to research love dolls in the west. This courage is present in Matt McMullen, founder of Abyss Creations, a US company producing RealDolls, the name that in the US became synonymous to love dolls in general. Beginning as a Hollywood mannequin maker he learned of the demand in high quality dolls and since then produces them with a small team.
    The company experimented with animation and robotics for quite a while, but only in a past few years out of Abyss Creations a company Realbotix was born, which since released to the market a robot head with weak AI functionality (which is provided by a mobile AI-interface app). The first, female heads can be already bought, a male head is in the development and to be released later this year.

    With no body animation, Realbotix robots are very much planned as companion robots, but with the rest of the body being a proper RealDoll, the sex side of companionship is not forgotten. On PornHub there already exist recordings on Realbotix Harmony. Companies in P.R. China try to imitate this by creating cheaper alternatives, often with no animation, like Z-Onedoll or Shenzhen All Intelligent Robot Technology (on the video), with very basic animation.

    It is the non-animated heads with just a speaking pseudo-AI module that often are being sold on places like aliexpress, which lead to news articles about «sex robot brothels». At the time of writing this article, not a single place offering dolls for rent has any robots similar to mentioned above. This, however, might change fairly soon with new robotic dolls being introduced.
    P.R. China is the largest country that suffers a disproportion of men and women, with more men present (India is very close), which results in quite a lot of Chinese staying behind in this whole relationship thing. With the growth of the middle class, and introduction of cheaper home-made thermoelastic polymer dolls, P.R. China is already becoming the largest market for love dolls.

    WM Doll, one of the bigger manufacturers in P.R. China already experiments with robotics, but so far the plans are vague. Aiworo seems to be another company that might be using WM Dolls as the base for robots, although they are even more vague than the plans of the actual WM Doll company.

    One of the more interesting doll manufacturers which entered research and development into robotics back in about 2016, is EX Doll, known outside P.R. China as DS Doll. Cloud Climax from UK provides English coverage for the development under a name DS Doll Robotics. EX Doll became quite active in a past year, promising a release of a head fairly soon, although the current plan is to first release a robot to be used as a greeter, instead of trying to imitate Realbotix.
    In the past few month they collaborated on making an entertainment show in P.R. China that will feature robots, and in general got a bit carried away with trying to do stunts like make their office look more like a scene from Westworld, or focusing on human women in their update videos instead on actual robots. Still, the project continues. All the videos are sourced from EX Doll, but i'll link to DS Doll Robotics.

    A fairly recent addition to Realbotix technology was creation of a seemingly unconnected Canadian Sanctuary AI company founded by Suzanne Gildert (Ph. D. in experimental physics), Geordie Rose (founder of D-Wave quantum computing business), and Ajay Agrawal. Among head members of the company are a musician Holly Peck and mentioned above Mat McMullen, a founder of Abyss Creations and Realbotix. It is Realbotix heads the company works with. The company had formed from Kindered AI, and their plans go as far as creating general artificial intellegence (AGI) somehow, on a promise on which eyebrows can be raised.

    continued in part five ...

    Android Robotics up to 2019: The real story; in five parts; part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5
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