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3. Ultra-Lifelike Robot Debuts in Japan

Quick, which one is the robot?

Repliee Q1 (at left in both pictures) appeared on June 9 at the 2005 World Expo in Japan, where she gestured, blinked, spoke, and even appeared to breathe. Shown with co-creator Hiroshi Ishiguru of Osaka University, the android is partially covered in skinlike silicone. Q1 is powered by a nearby air compressor, and has 31 points of articulation in its upper body.

Internal sensors allow the android to react "naturally." It can block an attempted slap, for example. But it's the little, "unconscious" movements that give the robot its eerie verisimilitude: the slight flutter of the eyelids, the subtle rising and falling of the chest, the constant, nearly imperceptible shifting so familiar to humans.

Surrounded by machines that draw portraits, swat fast-moving balls, and snake through debris, Q1 was only one of the showstoppers at the expo's Prototype Robot Exposition, which aimed to showcase Japan's growing role in the robotics industry.

But given Q1's reported glitch-related "spasms" at the expo, it may be a while before androids are escorting tour groups or looking after children—which may be just as well. "When a robot looks too much like the real thing, it's creepy," Hiroshi told the Associated Press.

Related photo: "Robot Jockeys Race Camels in Qatar."

Originally published June 2005

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—Photograph from AFP/Getty Images
 
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