The Future of Robotics, Part 1: Why haven’t we built C-3PO yet?

13 07 2010

I found an interesting article on about robotics and artificial intelligence. The article uses C-3PO as what we should have achieved. The article is an interesting read and I have copied it below:

The Future of Robotics, Part 1: Why haven’t we built C-3PO yet?

Science fiction has been teasing us with robots for decades. From Isaac Asimov’s tome-like novels filled with law-bound robots to the helpful or menacing ‘bots on the big screen, many of us grew up with the idea that a robot-filled future was an inevitability rather than a likely outcome.

So where the hell are they? True, in a way, we do live in a robot-filled future. Robots are teaching classes in Japan, and you could wake up as a cyborg yourself in as little as three years.

Still, we want a real walking, talking, thinking robot. A heavy-duty metal-man such as C-3PO would do nicely. He’s articulate, expressive and can operate in ways that approach a human’s aptitude. Will we see anything like the gold-colored protocol droid in our lifetimes? In the first of a three-part series, we talk to James Kuffner, an assistant professor at robot-friendly Carnegie Mellon, and get deep into the heart of the matter with what it would take to construct a robot like C-3PO.

James Kuffner, associate professor at the CMU Robotics Institute, is a specialist in the field of motion planning. His work at Carnegie Mellon University is all about getting robots to move around more efficiently — something that C-3PO did with far more ease than today’s robots.

The core of his research is his team’s approach of building a “search-based” AI, or giving a robot a brain like Google, that can rapidly search through its knowledge for the appropriate entry.

DVICE: What do you do that would help us build a protocol droid today?

Kuffner: Basically, my group is focusing on motion generation — in particularly motion planning. We’re trying to apply these search-based AI techniques to practical problems: loading a dishwater, walking up stairs and so on. Imagine the brain of a robot being driven by a search algorithm that allows it to learn things very quickly — like how it could bend its leg if it wanted to step over a branch, and then be able to reason about its connectivity to the space around it and employ the right actions.

It turns out this search-based AI is pretty general. You can give it general parameters like how long its legs are and how far it can bend and then it could quickly reason how to use its legs.

How does a search-based AI work?

Just like with the Internet and Wikipedia and databases like that our search-based approach allows us to keep building. At first engineers had to hard code actions and responses into robots and build a database each time — and who wants to do that? The goal is for a robot to be able to search back through its memory and know what it’s learned and what the robots before have learned and continue to pass on that searchable database onto the next robot, so that it keeps learning.

Every human child has to learn to pick up a cup and do it over and over to learn how much force is required or how slippery glass is. The great thing about a robot is that it learns what actions to take and what not to do — and if I can just copy that and propagate it and disseminate to future robots, then future robots will already know what to do with a cup.

What benefits are there to giving a robot a humanoid shape?

ell, if the only thing I wanted my robot to do is mow my grass, then I could just stick a radio-controlled receiver on it and drive it around. But the whole idea is that if we design a robot that has a human form, then it can use tools and navigate stairs and buildings and do things that we have designed for the human form.

I remember we were demonstrating our robot to a bunch of Japanese school children and they all came in and bowed to our robot – which isn’t something you’d normally do and we weren’t ready for that. But the important thing is that this humanoid form allowed our robot to interact in a specific emotional way.

C-3PO was just as much of a humanized character as Han or Luke. Is a ‘bot like him an improbable dream?

The idea is he really looks like an English butler-robot who is able to give advice and translate and be a really well-mannered robot. In some ways a lot of robot researchers are threatened by Hollywood because Hollywood shows all of these very advanced robots and it really raises expectations on what a robot should be able to do. You often hear, “Gosh, well your robot really isn’t all that interesting!”

I believe the next big thing is robots — just like with computers in the ’50s that were bulky and unreliable and only the biggest research institutes could have one, robots are like that now. I’m betting within maybe, you know, the 2020s or so we’ll be able to mass produce for a market demanding robots and I believe people will see robots transform more in a way that they’ve come to expect. At least I hope so. I could eat my words of course, but I’d really like to see robots that early.

Which robot is your fave?

Actually, because I grew up watching C-3PO and R2-D2, that pair is my favorite. We’ve actually got a CMU robots hall of fame and they were inducted two years ago. But that peaceful design is something I aspire to. I think in the US we have a fearful relationship with robots because things like the Terminator movies and the idea that technology will turn on us.

I spent quite a bit of time in Japan and there it’s much more natural to accept robots. It’s an entirely natural thing to think that robots will be our friends and that they can help us.


C-3PO’s Amazing Secret Double-Life Outside the Star Wars Films

29 09 2009

By Adam Pawlus

We all have to do things for money. The luckiest of us get to do something we love, the vast majority do things we don’t like or at least don’t mind, and a sad lot do things they hate. And some people, like one character in particular, will do virtually anything for a paycheck, no matter the job. When Star Wars movies weren’t in production, the golden protocol droid remained busy on the big and the small screen, taking odd jobs, doing PSAs, and hawking products the world over; and much like in all six movies, C-3PO was played by the same actor, Anthony Daniels, in every one of these performances, commercials and shills, making them all more legitimate and shameful simultaneously What golden terrors await you in C-3PO’s skeleton closet?

10) Cereal Pitchman

If you have a Saturday morning cartoon, you are going to have a cereal. This was law in 1984, and even golden men from other planets were not immune to the needs of marketers.

“We’ll call them C-3POs.” Will we? Did we spend all day coming up with that one? Anyone can act, but apparently anyone can’t come up with snappy, apt names. And those aren’t “Os,” they’re “8s”. Taking a job like this is the last step before a robot has to sleep in his car by the side of the road. (Don’t pretend you haven’t seen it. Anyone visiting Hollywood has seen Twiki by the underpass and OG Cylons hustling their hip hop mix CDs in front of the Amoeba Records. This is no life for a robot.)

9) Sketch Comic

Before George Lucas contracted the men behind the Muppets for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Muppets contracted C-3PO in 1979 to translate for R2-D2’s hot street lust on Sesame Street, of all places.

Apparently C-3PO is a comedian. Given that it’s Sesame Street, you might expect singing or dancing, not critiquing R2-D2’s taste in chicks. Or maybe you would expect that. Six million forms of communication aren’t enough to keep a robot employed in matters of protocol and diplomacy.

8) Car Salesman

It’s not uncommon for celebrities to make some mad phat bank by going to Japan and doing a few ads. Brad Pitt has done it, so why not Star Wars‘ resident stud muffin, as in this 1996 Mitsubishi commercial?

He’s fluent in Ewokese, but can he drive stick? (More on C-3PO’s stick momentarily.)

7) Doctor (or Someone Who Plays One on TV)

Fearing his status as the most beloved Star Wars character, C-3PO decided it would be a good idea in 1980 to do a Public Service Announcement to help kids get what they love the most — shots!

Little known fact: R2-D2 beat up C-3PO after doing a spot requesting more homework from Mrs. Yablon because she totally forgot to assign any before the Christmas break. May the Force, long division, and needles be with you!

6) Enabler/Kenner Spokesdroid

If you grew up in the late 1970s or early 1980s, odds are Star Wars toys were part of your life. Seeing them in the store was one thing, but did C-3PO and Chewbacca have to team up for some sort of marketing orgy? (Skip ahead to 0:30 in this one.)

This 1982 video — you can tell because the Empire Strikes Back collection has the last series Empire Strikes Back figures like Hoth Luke and Zuckuss for a grand total of 47 — thus cementing the nerditry of a generation. Kids can’t resist this kind of hard pitch! (Could you? Surely not.) It’s insidious, and surprisingly uncommon in children’s products these days. Who wouldn’t want an AT-AT, Slave I, or Wampa after seeing this spot? Commies, that’s who.

5) Office Assistant


At some point, C-3PO licensed out his good name and good looks to a variety of companies to make numerous licensed products — like the cereal and the toys. But did you know that C-3PO also became a product that encourages you to put something between his legs? It’s true!From
Sigma (who also brought us Landspeeder soap dishes and a super-cool Snowspeeder tooth brush caddy) comes this oddity. Apparently Han called him “Goldenrod” for a reason… but this isn’t the only one.

4) Anti-Smoking Spokesperson

Apparently, C-3PO must have been busted by the Burbank police at some point because, like so many showbiz greats before him, the golden droid has been made to do a PSA against smoking.

As you can see, somehow C-3PO has discovered that R2-D2 is smoking. Presumably to be cool, because let’s face it, R2-D2 is generally considered to be the cool one. It’s a good thing he’s around to let us know he doesn’t approve of such things.

3) Smoker


Nobody likes a hypocrite. It’s like the robot has some sort of oral fixation. Well, at least it’s just cigarettes, surely this won’t turn into something worse that may manifest itself in some public
documentation sold to children, right?

2) Il Porno Star


First: this is real. No, you are not seeing things. Topps (best known for their baseball cards) actually released this bad boy (with his bigger, badder boy) in the 1970s in wax packs of trading cards with a stick of bubble gum which is as fresh today as it ever was. This 1977 trading card was actually distributed in large numbers to unsuspecting kids. Various stories have circulated over the years as to the origin of the image, from a disgruntled employee with an airbrush to the image seen here being the actual unaltered image as taken from the negative provided by Lucasfilm. The corrected card is actually much harder to find, but let’s face it, if you’re going to buy one of the two versions you’re going to want C-3PO as Bwana Dik. (Apologies to the Mothers.)

1) Hack

Nothing lasts forever, and eventually C-3PO, star of three of the most beloved movies of a generation, had to find new work. But what could a robot do? Surely there had to be some film that could use his talents. Thankfully, he soon found work, but not before scraping the bottom of
the barrel in this 1999 clunker.

C-3PO, we understand whipping it out for the cameras back in the 1970s — everybody was doing it — but did you have to appear in this?

This post was found originally on Topless Robot