Designers
Hubo Einstein Robot, 2005

Hanson Robotics

Location: Dallas, Texas
Click above to view the full-size image

David Hanson’s work revolves around the question “What does it mean to be human?” Although robots’ capabilities currently remain far behind those in science fiction, Hanson’s work demonstrates that the day of convincingly sociable robots displaying aspects of human intelligence and appearance is not far away. Combining innovations in art, science, and technology, Hanson’s robots already mimic human behavior, expressions, and appearance to an unprecedented degree.

In 2003, Hanson founded Hanson Robotics after a number of years working on animatronics, or autonomous robot-like figures, for Disneyland Amusement Park. Realizing that to emulate human skin he needed a material that compresses easily, stretches with little force, and is very strong and durable, Hanson designed a patent-pending polymer “skin” called Frubber™, which moves the way real skin moves on a human face. Hanson stretched the Frubber over a frame of facial hardware he designed, with twenty to forty servomotors acting as artificial muscles underneath. The platinum-cured silicone Frubber allows the resulting face to react in one-eighth of a second with a full range of realistic and subtle expressions. Remarkably, the artificial muscles and skin run for hours on rechargeable AA batteries.

In 2005, collaborating with the artificial intelligence group of the FedEx Institute of Technology, the Automation & Robotics Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington, and the Philip K. Dick estate, Hanson created a life-size android figure of Philip K. Dick, the noted science-fiction writer whose works have been adapted into the motion pictures Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. Dick often wrote about robots who thought they were human, and believed that compassionate artificial intelligence would eventually save the world. Hanson’s robot not only mimics Dick’s face, but his eyes contain tiny cameras that allow him to track and recognize people. Andrew Olney of the FedEx Institute of Technology added artificial intelligence and software integration to Hanson’s hardware systems, electronics, and mechanisms, enabling Dick to carry on conversations with passersby. As Hanson observes, the robot “invents new ideas using a mathematical model of Dick’s mind, extracted from feeding the software over 10,000 pages of his vast written texts.”

Ultimately, Hanson hopes that other scientists will use robots, such as his latest replica of Albert Einstein, to test theories about how humans respond to social cues. Einstein is the first walking, talking robot with human expressions. His body was built by the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Making both his software and robotics open-source and available to developers, Hanson believes that in the future, such “social” robots will help the autistic to learn, interpret, and respond to facial expressions, and be used in science labs and medical applications to help people with disorders that affect communication skills.