David Hanson has two little Zenos to care for these days. One is his 18-month-old son Zeno, and the other is the robotic Zeno. It can't speak or walk yet, but has blinking eyes that can track people, and a face with a range of expressions.
At 17 inches tall and 6 pounds, the artificial Zeno is the culmination of five years of work by Hanson and a small group of engineers, designers and programmers at his company, Hanson Robotics. They believe there's an emerging business in the design and sale of lifelike robotic companions, or social robots.
Unlike clearly artificial robotic toys, Hanson says he envisions Zeno 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 you."
Hanson said he was inspired by, and is aiming for, 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 quest for the love of his flesh-and-blood parents was the source material for Steven Spielberg's film "Artificial Intelligence: AI."
He plans to make little Zenos available to consumers within the next three years for $200 to $300. Until then Hanson 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. (info from Zeno and The Associated Press.)
This is a preview, not a review.
Friday, September 14, 2007
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