Joe Engelberger’s IREX Comments

There are still a bunch of robots from IREX to cover, but Engadget’s got a story today about one (very important) person that was not completely enamored with the nuvos, Kondos, and HOAPs on display in Tokyo last week. The Father of Robotics himself, Joseph Engelberger, was at the show and not particularly enthused with what he saw.

He’s been quoted as saying, “These are toys that are being made, and nothing serious. Just stunts. There are dogs, dolls, faces that contort and are supposed to express emotion on a robot.” Additionally he referred to the robots on display as “pointless, expensive and unnecessary.”

Engelberger built the first industrial robot, the Unimate, and started the world’s first robotics company in the late 1950’s. With a resume that is rivaled by few, he clearly speaks with an authoritative voice on robotics. This time, however, I am afraid I have to disagree. His disappointment seems to be more with the applications for the robots than with their underlying technology. I understand his desire to see more robots able to provide assistance to the elderly and infirm, but take exception to his comment about the IREX conferees and their “uneconomic quest for the humanoid.”

The HOAP-3, nuvo, and Kondo are an evolutionary step towards the robots Engelberger envisions. Their current applications may seem trivial, but their technology is not at all. I would be very surprised if any of the current crop of robots were ever able to perform the tasks Engelberger wants to see handled, but I would bet my house that the technology from this generation of entertainment humanoids will play a significant role in those robots when they finally are developed. As one reader at Engadget succinctly put it, “Entertainment still drives innovation.”

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