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The Uncanny Valley

Translated by Karl F. MacDorman and Norri Kageki


Uncanny Valley Robotics & Automation Magazine CoverA version of this article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of
IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine.

Editor's note: More than 40 years ago, Masahiro Mori, then a robotics professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, wrote an essay on how he envisioned people's reactions to robots that looked and acted almost human. In particular, he hypothesized that a person's response to a humanlike robot would abruptly shift from empathy to revulsion as it approached, but failed to attain, a lifelike appearance. This descent into eeriness is known as the uncanny valley. The essay appeared in an obscure Japanese journal called Energy in 1970, and in subsequent years it received almost no attention. More recently, however, the concept of the uncanny valley has rapidly attracted interest in robotics and other scientific circles as well as in popular culture. Some researchers have explored its implications for human-robot interaction and computer-graphics animation, while others have investigated its biological and social roots. Now interest in the uncanny valley should only intensify, as technology evolves and researchers build robots that look increasingly human. Though copies of Mori's essay have circulated among researchers, a complete version hasn't been widely available. This is the first publication of an English translation that has been authorized and reviewed by Mori. [Read an exclusive interview with him.]


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An Uncanny Mind: Masahiro Mori on the Uncanny Valley and Beyond

Masahiro Mori Uncanny Valley
Masahiro Mori at his home in Tokyo.

In this guest post, Norri Kageki interviews Masahiro Mori, who, as a professor of engineering at Tokyo Institute of Technology in the 1970s, proposed the now-famous concept of the uncanny valley. [Read the first authorized translation of his seminal article here.] Mori's insight was that people would react with revulsion to humanlike robots, whose appearance resembled, but did not quite replicate, that of a real human. He called this phenomenon bukimi no tani (the term "uncanny valley" first appeared in the 1978 book Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction, written by Jasia Reichardt).

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Bosch Introduces New Autonomous Robotic Lawnmower

We got a tip over the weekend that Bosch is introducing (or, has just introduced) what a press release (machine translated from Swedish) calls the "world's first intelligent robot lawn mower," the Bosch Indego. Well, we're not entirely sure about the world's first bit, but from what we can tell, there are definitely some features here that will make the Indego more intelligent than some of its competitors.

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Video Friday: Humanoid Goes Swimming, a Last Moment Robot, and R2D2 Sells You a Prius

Believe it or not, we still have ICRA posts in the works, and there's all kinds of other long-term awesome stuff going on around here that we'd love to tell you about but can't (HA!). But rest assured, we're now more optimistic about robotics than we've ever been before. Today's Video Friday, however, has absolutely nothing to do with any of that.

Incidentally, if you spot anything particularly cool that you think belongs in a Video Friday (or deserves a post all on its own), get in touch! We're on Twitter, Facebook, and you can even email us if you hate social networking. Meantime, on to the videos!

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DASH Roachbot Learns Acrobatic Flips from Real Cockroach


Uh, don't geckos eat cockroaches? Photo: Jean-Michel Mongeau, Ardian Jusufi, and Pauline Jennings (UC Berkeley PolyPEDAL Lab) 

DASH, UC Berkeley's 10-centimeter long, 16-gram Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod, has learned a new trick: the robot can now perform "rapid inversion" maneuvers, dashing up to a ledge and then swinging itself around to end up underneath the ledge and upside-down. This replicates behaviors in cockroaches and geckos, and may lead to a new generation of acrobatically-inclined insectobots.

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Quadrotor Learns How Not To Swing Stuff

One of the ways in which robots are just starting to get really useful is with hauling aerial cargo. Last year, the optionally-manned KMAX made its first autonomous cargo delivery in Afghanistan, and since it can fly as many missions as you have fuel to keep it going, it's definitely a safer and more efficient way to get supplies to troops, especially in dangerous areas.

To move cargo around, helicopters (autonomous or otherwise) often carry stuff slung beneath them on long ropes, and as you can probably imagine, said cargo often ends up doing all sorts of swinging about, especially if the helicopter that's carrying it has to maneuver. Researchers from the University of New Mexico have been developing algorithms that allow robots to compensate for motion-induced swinging of suspended loads, and testing them out on real live quadrotors.

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Get Off the Couch and Exercise With Joggobot

Personally, I've never understood jogging. You dress in funny clothes, run in either a bunch of small circles or one big circle or in place on a treadmill until you exhaust yourself, and then end up back where you started all sweaty and gross. But, whatever. You can make nearly any activity 100 percent better by involving a robot, which is why this robotic jogging partner is such a good idea.

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