Honda Announces Four Robot Concepts With Friendly Faces

Thursday, 07 December 2017 - 5:35PM
Thursday, 07 December 2017 - 5:35PM
Honda Announces Four Robot Concepts With Friendly Faces
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The future of robotics is absolutely adorable. At least, that's what Honda seems to think, as the creator of the friendly robot ASIMO and several other similar droids.

The automotive engineering company has announced a range of droids that come complete with happy, smiley, faces - all the better to make you feel at ease while a machine is catering to your every whim. Not much is known about the specifics of these robots yet, since Honda stated that we'll get to know them all properly in January as part of CES 2018, but in the meantime we're able to get a good look at these wonderful bots:

According to Honda, these machines are named as follows:

Opening quote
"3E-A18, a companion robotics concept that shows compassion to humans with a variety of facial expressions. 3E-B18, a chair-type mobility concept designed for casual use in indoor or outdoor spaces. 3E-C18, a small-sized electric mobility concept with multi-functional cargo space. 3E-D18, an autonomous off-road vehicle concept with AI designed to support people in a broad range of work activities"
Closing quote

What's interesting is that Honda seems to have deliberately filmed their announcement video so as to give us no frame of reference for the size of these machines. Based on the description for these robots, it sounds as if they'll be big enough for people to ride on, but the way they're shot in the video suggests that they're teeny tiny, almost like remote control toys.

This almost seems like a deliberate attempt to make them look as appealing and adorable as possible. So why is Honda pushing for this angle with its new range of robot servants? Probably because this means avoiding the Uncanny Valley, and concerns that these robots might in any way prove dangerous. Their previous ASIMO was a popular robot in part because it doesn't have a creepy almost-but-not-quite human face.

We've seen from examples like Hanson Robotics' Sophia that robots who too closely resemble people end up looking absolutely terrifying. Our technology to create believable human faces simply isn't there yet, and Sophia looks like the kind of nightmare fuel that's only a few steps removed from the classic sci-fi horror silent movie Metropolis.

That said, people want robots that we can relate to, and project emotions onto. There's a benefit to using simple smiling faces that look an awful lot like emojis - the more vague and abstract these bots' human faces look, the more we're able to fill in the blanks for ourselves and start treating them like little people rather than computers on wheels.

Instead of going with a robot design that looks sleek, advanced, and futuristic, Honda is aiming to make us feel like their robots are harmless (which, ideally, they should be). The company wants us to love these machines, and someone in marketing clearly thinks that the easiest way to make that happen is to simply show us a warm and friendly face that can't in any way be interpreted as hostile or creepy.

It's a shame, then, that Doctor Who liked messing around with that by introducing cute killer robots.

It's not necessarily easy to trust robots at the best of times, but ones that are unable to stop smiling? That's potentially more unnerving than Honda is hoping, especially considering the pop-culture sentiment that suggests that a smiling robot isn't always to be trusted.

If Honda is trying so hard to make their robots appear friendly, it could well be because, up close, they seem a little terrifying. If that's the case, trying to make their bots look like overgrown toys might not be enough to get people to trust these things.
Science News