BEIJING, Sept. 14 (Xinhuanet) -- A group of
engineers, designers and programmers at Hanson Robotics in Texas have created a
17-inch tall, 6-pound robot boy bearing the same name as the company's founder's
18-month-old son, Zeno.
Zeno, a robot boy creation by David Hanson makes one of his many expressive faces at Hanson's office in Richardson, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007.(Photo: Chinadaily.com.cn)
Unlike Zeno the human boy, Zeno the robot can't speak
or walk yet, but its blinking eyes can track people moving about and it has
a face that captivates with a variety of expressions.
Hanson Robotics' founder, David Hanson, and his
colleagues believe there's an emerging business in the design and sale of
lifelike robotic companions, or "social" robots. They will show robot Zeno
to third- through 12th-grade students Thursday in Los Angeles at the Wired
NextFest technology conference.
Hanson says he envisions Zeno not as a clearly
artificial robotic toy, but as an interactive learning companion, a synthetic
pal who can engage in conversation and convey human emotion through a face made
of a skin-like, patented material Hanson calls frubber.
"It's a representation of robotics as a character
animation medium, one that is intelligent," Hanson beams. "It sees you and
recognizes your face. It learns your name and can build a relationship with
If the whole concept sounds like a science-fiction
movie, there's a good reason. Hanson said he was inspired by, and is targeting,
the same sort of realism found in the book "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," by
Brian Aldiss. Aldiss' story of troubled robot boy David and his longing for the
love of his flesh-and-blood parents was the source material for Steven
Spielberg's film "Artificial Intelligence: AI."
Hanson admits it's going to be at least 15 years
before robot builders can approach anything like what seems to be possible in
movies, but plans to make little Zenos available to consumers within the
next three years for 200 U.S. dollars to 300 dollars.
Until then, Hanson, 37, makes a living selling and
renting pricey, lifelike robotic heads. His company offers models that look like
Albert Einstein, a pirate and a rocker, complete with spiky hair and sunglasses.
They cost tens of thousands of dollars and can be customized to look like
anyone, Hanson said.