At the Las Vegas tech show, amazing and disturbing humanoid robots

Steph Deschamps / January 6, 2022

A child-sized robot doll was writhing and screaming Wednesday in front of a stunned audience at the big tech show in Las Vegas, where the line between cool and slightly disturbing can sometimes seem tenuous.
 
The eyes are really scary, exclaims Marcelo Humerez, an exhibitor from Peru who came across the Pedia-Roid (a contraction of pediatric and android), a robot designed for medical training, on the show floor.
 
A few booths away, a humanoid robot named Ameca receives a less appalled welcome from curious onlookers who watch it discuss while demonstrating an amazing range of motion similar to humans.
  
We designed Ameca to be as human-like as possible in its movements, says Morgan Roe of UK-based Engineered Arts. 
 
Mr. Roe stands right next to the robot, whose gray face moves and blinks as its human counterpart speaks.
 
Humans are so complex, so making a robot exactly like a human is almost impossible, he adds.
 
But if we did that, then you wouldn't be afraid of it, because you would just assume it was a human.
 
Before reaching this level of realism, her creation has certain aspects that reveal that she is not a living creature, giving way instead to a concept called the valley of the strange.
 
It doesn't move exactly like a human, it doesn't express itself, or show emotions, or talk like a human. It's the valley of the uncanny, that's the scary part, explains Morgan Roe.
 
For the Pedia-Roid robot, the terrifying aspect is voluntary, says Yusuke Ishii of the Japanese company tmsuk which exhibited the doll.
 
We want to create a realistic scenario, that's why we added some scary noises, to make her behave like a child, he says.
 
According to the company's brochure, the robot can realistically simulate the contorting movements of a child who is refractory to receiving treatment.
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