Special Issue on Current Status and Prospects of Amusement Robots
Professor University of Electro-Communications 1-5-1, Chofugaoka, Chofu, Tokyo 182, Japan
Manipulating robots that have been developed to replace the functions of human hands have successfully achieved the objectives of industrial robots; more than 400,000 of such robots are currently in operation, primarily in production lines of factories worldwide. Furthermore, robots with locomotive functions, i.e. autonomous ground vehicles and mobile robots, are being widely used in both production and non-production environments. Actually a great number of mobile robots are operating in non-production environments. Examples are robots for service applications in offices, hospitals, and homes; safety guard robots; maintenance and supervision robots; firefighting robots; emergency rescue robots; hazard prevention robots; space robots; and educational robots. These robots, whether they are intended for production or non-production use, make a significant contribution to mankind by performing some useful jobs or by accomplishing some useful duties in place of humans; thus, relieving humans of hard labor. In addition to the above robots, researchers, have developed many robots that belong to the conceptual classification of amusement robots. These robots do not perform any useful work or tasks in place of humans; however, they amuse the people who watch them play games or who manipulate them. Many automata that imitate the actions of humans have been developed both in Europe and in Japan. Such robots can be considered as prototypes of amusement robots. Included in the anthropomorphic automata developed in Europe are automatic puppets that play musical instruments, write letters, or draw pictures, dance, or something of the like. Similarly in Japan, since approximately 300 years ago, various types of automata called karakuri-puppets have been developed, and these puppets fascinate naive audiences even today by playing elegant dramas or performing some acrobatic feats at festivals held at shrines and temples. In Japan in 1796, Yorinao Hosokawa published an excellent technical book on the mechanisms and design of the karakuri-puppets. Today, thanks to the progress of microcomputers, a large number of performance robots have been developed that replace the functions of human being and animals or can perform behaviors that no animate creatures can do. Various types of robot contests have already been held including micromouse, tennis matches, ball-collection contests, and water-dipping contests. It is expected that international robot Olympiads for the contests of advanced technology and intelligence are expected to be held in the future. The progress of contest robots of the highest technical level will contribute to the progress of robot technology. People of all ages, from infants to old men and women, would be able to entertain themselves by playing with robots and could share emotion with the robots if people can develop various types of such amusement robots that can appeal to the feelings of people. Furthermore, robots can provide people with mental satisfaction as well as can be the consultants and friends of them. Amusement robots must stimulate the imaginations of young researchers, contributing to the progress of robotics. Consequently, the development of robots that are extremely similar to human being will be the next target.