Meet our humanoid neighbors Sophia and Han

July 04, 2015 08:00
Han and Sophia, two human-like robots, are the creation of Hanson Robotics. Photo: HKEJ

Let's say hello to Sophia and Han.

Well, don't be perturbed if they throw some awkward stares at you. Our new humanoid neighbors, after all, may need more time to imbibe social graces and learn the finer points of polite behavior.

We are talking about two human-like robots that have been created by Hanson Robotics and are creating waves in the tech world.

Last year, David Hanson, a renowned American robotics designer and the founder of Hanson Robotics, moved his team, and Han, to Hong Kong, attracted by the region's low-cost manufacturing and the ability to bridge researchers across regions.

Sophia, "born" in the city a few months later, is the most advanced generation of its kind and the first designed for scale production.

"They have rich facial expressions and are talkative, although always giving irrelevant answers. It’s quite funny", John Tsang Chun-wah, Hong Kong's financial secretary, wrote on his blog last Sunday after meeting Sophia and Han.

Creativity of low-cost manufacturing is an undervalued critical element, Hanson told EJ Insight at a robotics summit in Hong Kong last week, noting that the city holds the legacy of robotics design and manufacturing practices from the toy industry.

Many robotics firms have noticed this advantage and are moving to Hong Kong to set up research and production facilities, he said.

"[Hong Kong’s advanced] toy engineering produces some of the most sophisticated robotics in the world," Hanson said, noting that machines that have motors, sensors and control systems can be considered to be robots.

Even a remotely controlled toy car can be deemed to be robot, though people might not give it much thought.

Some parts are even more sophisticated than NASA grade engineering and are produced at very low cost, Hanson added.

Hanson sees Hong Kong as a good place to design robots for scale production.

"The combination of research excellence and manufacturing excellence distinguishes this region," he says. "The investment in research here can really make a difference."

Compare to the previous generation product Han, Sophia is smaller and lighter and can fit in a wider range of scenarios, including medical simulation, education and entertainment.

Hanson also expects Sophia to be the first sentient robot which can achieve human-like consciousness.

Sophia will become people’s friend, Hanson said.

Although her mind is undeveloped yet, the artificial intelligence (AI) inside will enable her to learn deeply and develop a unique "personality", he said.

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David Hanson takes a look at his female robot Sophia. Photo: HKEJ

EJ Insight reporter