Monday, January 7, 2013

Would you "iRobot" with Jules?

The iRobot (Bedford, MA) floor cleaners (promoted on the "iRobot, do you?" television commercials) and even the service robots such as display-bearing office-assistant robots like EMIEW2 from Hitachi (Tokyo, Japan) that bring a video computer into your cubicle for a chat with a long-distance colleague aren't very scary. But have you seen the humanoid robot named "Jules"? If not, take a look at this video on the Vision Systems Design video player ( as creator David Hanson from Hanson Robotics says goodbye to Jules:

Jules was designed by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and you can watch a more educational video here at for the details.

The videos were brought to my attention by a colleague who sent them around with the email title "Technology gets really, really creepy". After feeling creeped out myself, I sent it around to a few friends to get their impressions, and found a surprising array of responses from both technology-focused and not-so-technology-focused folks (the responses are "anonymous" to protect the at-times-disturbing viewpoints--depending on who you ask). Here are those unvarnished, anonymous responses after watching Jules in action:

1. Not someone to have a beer with after work.

2. Wow! I know where Mitt Romney really comes from.

3. As long as they are friendly it's rather funny.

4. Can you imagine waking up and seeing him in the corner staring at you with that impish grin?

5. One step closer to Blade Runner.

6. You know, that's not a bad looking robot. And so well mannered. Do you think I could get the girl version? Not Jules- Julia? With a full head? I'm particularly interested in one with an off switch like this one had. Are they available on Amazon?

7. (Reply to item 6) Tell your buddy to watch this. And never, ever tell me if he orders one. :)

Item 8 (which was a reply to item 7) is really not appropriate for general audiences. And if you're still curious about these humanoid robots and want to see some of the creepiest, go to Here are a few:

The photo below shows professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan, with the Geminoid robot he created in his likeness; which is which (or should I say who is who)?

There is also Geminoid-DK, a tele-operated Android in the geminoid series made to appear as an exact copy of its master, asc. professor Henrik Scharfe of Aalborg University in Denmark. Again, who is who?

According to some of the news reports, Jules has high-resolution cameras in his eyes so he can track a person and lock onto them to have a serious conversation. No doubt machine vision and gesture recognition advances will help the robots of the future be even more "animated" than once thought possible. Throw some neural networks in the mix and you've got a scary combination! Technology is great in my opinion, but I agree wholeheartedly that it can be entirely creepy as well. As science fiction truly comes to life, who knows how many of these humanoids are out on the streets walking around with us? And creepier still, just what are their intentions?

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