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This humanoid robot factory plunges past uncanny valley

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Robotics has come a long way in a decade, and now companies are making them look much much more human-like.

 

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A 20-second video from inside a Chinese humanoid robot factory is causing some consternation today around social media. It shows a range of highly realistic-looking, partially skinned humanoids under construction.

 

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The video, uploaded by user ‘meimei4515,’ is uncredited, but shows several moving androids with human-like hair and skin – in stark contrast to most of the general-purpose humanoids we’d normally cover, which are designed to look like robots, rather than trying to fool anyone.

 

They’re starting to look uncannily human!

 

Here, there are rows of pretty cyborg-ladies, disembodied heads on stands, fully human-like presenter types wearing shirts and pants, and a surreal tree of humanoid arms, flexing and twirling their white-fingered hands in concert. It looks for all the world like a grittier version of Westworld’s backstage workshop.

 

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Whoever took the video says something in Chinese at the beginning, which translates roughly to “before that, the employees had already started mass production.”

So, what are we actually looking at here? As it turns out, the arm-tree is the giveaway. Chinese company ExRobots has shown it before in expo displays. According to the company’s (translated) website, it builds “efficient and friendly smart guide services for government agencies, medical institutions, and service retail industries.”

To show off its wares, ExRobots runs an ‘Ex Future Science and Technology Museum‘ in the city of Dalian, which looks to us somewhat like a robotic version of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, with Einstein and Edison among the animatronic characters on site. There’s certainly no shame here about leaning into fleshy titillation – extra care has clearly been put into the boobular fembots, down to the goosebumps on their silicone leg skin.

 

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The museum allows visitors to ‘drive’ a humanoid head with their own facial expressions using motion capture, and there’s a rotating dais you can stand on for three minutes to be 3D-scanned, after which there may be some sort of facility to have body parts 3D printed, as shown in the following video from China Global Television Network – the idea is to demonstrate the company’s ability to produce custom animatronic mascots and presenters for corporate clients.

So no, dear dribbling hordes of social media commenters, you’re not looking at your new AI girlfriends. You’re also not looking at a company here that seems interested in useful humanoids. You’re looking at an advanced animatronics operation. The video is attention-grabbing because this is a company designed to grab attention. There’s not much meat in this sandwich.

Source: ExRobots

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