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Who's Behind This Chainsaw-Wielding Killer Robot?

A humanoid robot attacking people with a chainsaw? This has to be a viral marketing campaign -- and we need your help to find out who's behind it

3 min read
Who's Behind This Chainsaw-Wielding Killer Robot?

UPDATED December 16, 2011 8:02 a.m.: Mystery solved. See note at the end of the post.

miyakki laboratories hubot chainsaw humanoid robot at botex

Dayne Barton from TokyoTek reached out to ask if we know who's behind this strange series of videos that are beginning to surface. The videos show people walking around a Tokyo trade show called Bot Expo when all of a sudden a humanoid robot holding a chainsaw goes nuts and attacks the crowd. Watch:

We have no clue of who's behind what is clearly a (deep-pocketed) publicity stunt or viral marketing campaign. But okay: We take the bait. We want to find out more. We just hope this is about some awesome new J. J. Abrams robot show and not a new brand of laundry detergent.

So we need your help. Fire up your Google engine and see what you can uncover about this. If you find out who's behind this or what this is all about, we'll send you an Automaton t-shirt. Post your findings in the comment section below. (To be clear: We are not involved in this campaign or whatever this is, and we do not endorse whatever this turns out to be. We're just curious because it involves robots--killer robots!)

I did some googling myself. Searching for "Miyakki Laboratories," "Hubots," or "Natsuki Shimazu," the name of the company's "chief engineer," didn't turn up anything significant. I tend to think that the people behind this did some research. For instance, this is what "Natsuki Shimazu" says in her "interview" with the "news reporter" in the vid above:

"The Hubot is so much more than a machine, in the sense that it has what we call a genuine sonzaikan, a human presence. The improvements are actually so fast that differences between an actual human being and a Hubot are no longer visible at first glance."

Sonzaikan?! HAH HAH HAH! These guys are good. This is an actual term used by Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro and others when discussing ultra-realistic humanoids (see this article I wrote last year and this one by Tim Hornyak).

The only major thing I found was one additional video: a TV commercial for Miyakki Labs, posted on their YouTube channel, showing their new "Hubmax PHD" (seriously) humanoid servant that can fix you breakfast and has a USB port on the back of her neck:

Confused? Me too. What the heck is going on here?!

UPDATE: Case closed. Congratulations to our reader Hawkeye King, who unraveled this mystery by linking the chainsaw robot videos to SVT, a Swedish TV channel. It turns out SVT is producinga drama series called "Äkta Människor" ("Real Humans") about lifelike humanoid robots. Yesterday I got confirmation from SVT that the YouTube videos "are part of our viral campaign for the series." This new series will air in Sweden early next year, but the good news is that an English versionis in production. I'm getting in touch with the series creators and will have more details soon. In the mean time, some info that SVT sent me:

Real Humans
Brand new drama series from SVT. Co-produced by Matador Film and directed by Harald Hamrell and Levan Akin. Premieres on SVT1 Sunday January 22.

Story
What happens when robots become so human that they can barely be distinguished from real people? When they can even be our lovers? Real Humans takes place in a parallel world to our own, in which people’s lives have been completely transformed by the new generation of robots -- Hubots.

Leo and Niska lead a group of rogue Hubots who are fighting for their independence. During an escape, Leo’s beloved Mimi disappears and Leo leaves the group to find her. At the same time, the Engman family decides to buy a used Hubot, something that has unexpected consequences for the entire family. Warehouse foreman Roger’s life is falling apart. His wife has left him for her Hubot-lover and all of his human coworkers have been replaced by Hubots. Roger decides to start a resistance movement to fight the threat.

Shine Group have attained the international distribution rights to the series. The Shine-controlled Kudos Film & Television will co-produce an English-language version and handle format rights.

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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