Tag Archives: Humanoid

The Creepy Factor of Animatronics

 

At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is the incredibly popular Hall of Presidents exhibit visitors to this exhibit are treated to lifelike animatronic figures depicting every U.S. president from George Washington to Barack Obama. However, would you believe some people refuse to go into the Hall?

It’s true. Some people just find animatronic figures too creepy to deal with. It’s no different from folks who will not visit a wax museum because the life-like figures give them the willies. There’s just something about re-creating human figures in lifelike form that creeps us out.

Always Something Missing

We don’t fully understand the creepy factor of animatronics, which is why the industry has yet to overcome the phenomenon. However, human behavioral experts suggest it might come down to an innate knowledge within the human brain that there is “something missing”. No matter how life-like an animatronic humanoid looks, we can’t deal with the fact that something is not right; something we cannot quite put our fingers on.

Experts suggest a couple of possibilities here:

  • The Eyes – It has been said many times over that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you look into someone’s eyes, you can generally tell their overall mood rather easily. Sometimes you can even tell what they are thinking. When creating an Android Doppelgänger extreme care and attention is given to the eyes for those reasons. The most subtle motion, lower eyelid squint, how much of the iris is visible, and 100’s of other factors beyond the simple eyeball up/down left/right motion are considered.
  • Facial Expressions – Some experts suggest that a lack of accurate facial expression is another part of the creepy factor. Custom Entertainment Solutions now offers an Android Doppelgänger Replication service, making it possible for you to have a custom doppelgänger made of anyone. As part of that service, we do our best to replicate facial expressions. This is not always as easy as a simple “smile” or “eyebrows up/down”. The uncanny valley is a very real thing that we must balance on when animating. On one side, if you make the motions on an ultra-realistic sculpture as real as possible you will inevitably miss something. That small “something” will trigger any human to feel terrified! The solutions we employ are stylization in either animation or sculpture.
  • Fluid Movement – Employing robust fluid movement in our animatronic projects is another option in our Android Doppelgänger Replication service. Using complex closed-loop control theory and advanced feedback sensors fluid motion can be robust and adds realism. So much so that we can fool people if lighting and distance are manipulated in relation to the animatronic subject. It could be that our brains have trouble processing realistic fluid movement in light of the fact that we know we are looking at an android. It could definitely creep some people out.
Android Doppelgänger Replication

Android Doppelgänger Replication

Stationary Projects

What some of us in the animatronic business find so fascinating is that the creepy factor does not seem to apply with stationary products. For example, our new Ultra Realistic Artificial Hands are about as close to the real thing as possible. The main difference with these hands is that they are stationary rather than animatronic.

We have designed and built them so they can be posed in an almost unlimited number of combinations. However, because they are stationary, they do not seem to creep people out. Observers know they’re looking at something artificial so they are more likely to be fascinated by the realism.

Perhaps one day we’ll fully understand how the human brain works as it relates to animatronic humanoids. Many institutes, universities, and individuals are making progress in finding a bridge to this uncanny valley “creepy” effect. In fact we have created many different designs of humanoid heads for universities in Tokyo, Sweden, and Israel. The work that they and everybody else are doing may eventually lead us to overcoming the creep factor. It’s a daunting task indeed, but a challenge many are making exciting progress in!

The Evolution Of Robotics

 

In this new era where we see robots on TV making our cars, cleaning our floors, doing life-critical surgery, and “simply” zapping our corneas with a laser we have managed to slip into a state where “robots” are just another tool to help us.

Those still feeling let down that we don’t have flying cars just yet haven’t stopped and looked around: the science fiction dream of robots being in our households, military soldiers, factory workers, and more is HAPPENING!

And it is progressing fast…

Asimo Development Process

Asimo Development Process (click to enlarge)

Look around the world. Asimo, a breakthrough in humanoid technology. I watched it run across a stage years ago now and had to stop myself from thinking “aaahhhhh, that’s just a kid in a suit”. No, this robotic masterpiece is emulating a human. Some would say – perhaps if you put an “animatronic” skin on this you could call this a very, very expensive animatronic.

Not ten years ago in a 4th year mechatronics class Kam Leang taught us to program a MIT HandyBoard microcontroller, hack ultrasonic rangefinders from Polaroid cameras, and more to create a truly autonomous robotic hockey player. Hit a button, select defense or offense programs, and play two on two on a 8 foot long wood floor ‘rink’ with goals at magnetic north and south (so our hacked mini-van digital compasses could give us feedback to allow us to score on the OTHER guys goal!).

Now this technology is “simple”. True, there was a lot of mid-level electrical engineering involved and more than 10 digital and 8 analog inputs to manage a 2 motor differential drive H-bridge. But now we can simply go to “The Robot Shop” online and buy a kit / controller that has most all that in it. With instructions.

Aldebaran NAO

Aldebaran NAO (click to enlarge)

…Or simply buy a full humanoid biped to play around with. The Aldebaran NAO is a perfect example. It even comes in a well-designed plastic skin.