Interview with Masato Hirose -- "Falling down, getting up, and walking on" (page 5)

Interview with Masato Hirose

Apr 9, 2001

Bring me a can of beer

--What kind of things would you like the robot to be capable of?

Hirose: When people ask me what kind of robot I was aiming for, I would always reply that I want a robot that can go get me a can of beer from the refrigerator. This may sound simple enough, but in reality, it is quite difficult. There is quite a number of hurdles to overcome: Enabling the robot to figure out to which side the door of the refrigerator should be opened and to determine what item to select from the vast arrays of items inside the fridge.I did try once in the past to create a hand of the robot. I observed how people use their hands, and after all that study, I gave up. Human beings use every single finger of their hands. I learned that people use everything they have. That is the reason why I gave up. The task of creating a human-like hand for robot was just too daunting.It is extremely difficult trying to get a machine do all the things that the human hand can do. So currently, my focus is on developing more basic operations for the hands of the robot. Surprisingly enough, people do not usually carry hefty things around in their day-to-day living.

--Once you developed a robot that can bring you a can of beer, what is your next objective?

Hirose: I think that a robot is simply an extension of a machine, so I intend to make it a tool that is convenient. That being the aim, I do not see any necessity in adding too much intelligence capability into the robot. I am not thinking of trying to give the robot the ability to make its own judgments. What I have in mind is something akin to a housemaid -- A robot that will bring something over to you, do the shopping for you, and so on.

--So it seems your concept of a robot is quite different from that of Sony's biped humanoid robot. Sony has clearly stated that there was no need for a robot to be useful in terms of serving humans.

Hirose: Sony's robot is serving the humans by soothing people's heart. The difference between our robot and Sony's is that ours is meant to be useful for humans as a machine while Sony's robot appeals to people's hearts. However, what we must bear in our minds is that even when we are developing robots as useful machines, you cannot disregard their interaction with human beings. People often become attached to their cars. Certainly the car is a very convenient machine, but the driver is the one who sits and conveys his/her wishes to go left or right to the machine by taking hold of the steering wheel and drive.  The same thing can be said of a cook looking after his own knives carefully. Making a robot move in accordance with your wishes might also give you a sense of attachment to the robot or the robot itself might feel some kind of affection to you. My idea is that the more often you use an item conveniently, the more you would be feeling a certain attachment to it -and I intend to develop a robot based on the equation.

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