Are androids 'better' robots?

The latest issue of Connection Science is dedicated to 'Android science.' This special issue was co-edited by scientists who have previously worked together on the development of Repliee Q1Expo, an android that was introduced at the 2005 World Exposition in Aizu, Japan. And throughout a selection of scientific papers, they try to answer this question: are androids 'better' than mechanical-looking robots?

The latest issue of Connection Science is dedicated to 'Android science.' This special issue was co-edited by Karl MacDorman, in the Human-Computer Interaction program of the School of Informatics, Indiana University, and Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University. As you'll find out in "I, Robot; You, Human," these scientists have previously worked together on the development of Repliee Q1Expo, an android that was introduced at the 2005 World Exposition in Aizu, Japan. And throughout a selection of scientific papers, they try to answer this question: are androids 'better' than mechanical-looking robots?

Before going further, please note that I'm unable to provide you with direct links to this special issue of Connection Science because of the obfuscated URL structure used by the publisher of this scientific journal. But you still can visit the Taylor & Francis Group website and search for the journal.

Here are some questions that this special issue tries to answer.

Can androids shine light into the murky world of autism and enable scientists to treat it and other psychiatric disorders? What can mechanical beings reveal about how we relate to one another as flesh-and-blood creations? And as these humanlike stand-ins continue to evolve, will they form relationships with us and lay claim to certain moral and legal rights?

As I mentioned above, this special issue was co-edited by Karl MacDorman and Hiroshi Ishiguro. Below is a picture of two robots developed at Hiroshi Ishiguro's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University. "The android on the left is named Repliee R1, a joint effort with Kokoro Co., Ltd., and the humanoid on the right is named Eveliee P1, a joint effort with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries." (Credit for image and caption: Hiroshi Ishiguro)

Repliee R1 and Eveliee P1

And below is a picture of the latest version of the Repliee android, named Repliee Q2 -- or 'Uando' -- which is controlled by air actuators that provide 43 degrees of freedom. The android can make facial expressions, eye, head, and body movements, and gestures with the arms and hands. Touch sensors with sensitivity to variable pressures are mounted under her clothing and silicone skin. Repliee Q2 uses floor sensors and omnidirectional vision sensors to recognize where people are in order to make eye contact while addressing them during conversation. Repliee’s interactions are largely scripted, but she can respond to the content and prosody of her interaction partner by varying what she says and the pitch of her voice." (Credit for image and caption: Hiroshi Ishiguro)

Repliee Q2 -- or 'Uando'

But let's look back at the introduction of this special issue of Connection Science. Here are two short quotes from this introduction (PDF format, 5 pages, 58 KB).

"One advantage of using an android as an experimental apparatus is that it can be more precisely controlled than a human actor," writes MacDorman. "It also has a physical presence, which is lacked by a video or computer simulation of a human being. An android offers a good balance between experimental control and ecological validity because it looks more human than other devices and can support more humanlike interaction while still being precisely controllable."

MacDorman is also the co-author of another article, "What baboons, babies, and Tetris players tell us about interaction: A biosocial view of norm-based social learning" (PDF format, 16 pages, 119 KB). With Stephen Cowley, from University of Hertfordshire, UK, they suggest that "future androids may be endowed with features and programming that will enable them to establish and sustain relationships with people."

For more information, here is a link to another paper by Karl MacDorman and Hiroshi Ishiguro, "The uncanny advantage of using androids in social and cognitive science research" (PDF format, 42 pages, 719 KB) from which the above pictures have been extracted.

Sources: Indiana University news release, December 20, 2006; and various websites

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