Philip K. Dick asked, "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" Now, decades later, we still don't have a definitive answer to his query, though we may find out sooner than anyone thinks. Although they haven't been combined into a complete, fully functional android yet, all of the required pieces seem to be coming together in an amazingly realistic fashion.
A good example is the "Actroid DER 2" android exhibited at the AKIBA Robot Festival last weekend here in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. This female android is surprisingly realistic, right down to the polish on her dainty fingernails, her facial movements, and even skin tone.
We've seen a lot of impressive photos and videos of Actroid DER in the past, but honestly - none of them really do justice to the android's realism. Seeing it in person, up close, is a totally different, and almost startling experience that can't be effective captured on film or video.
Her movements are surprisingly realistic. Obviously a great deal of time and effort has been devoted to studying the body language of real women so that it could be emulated by the android. Of course all of her actions and words are carefully scripted. Her creators have even gone to the trouble of including a little humor.
At one point during the demonstration she explains how she uses specially designed air servos that give her a 'nice body', implying that she doesn't have to watch her calories or worry about gaining weight. Later during the demo she cautions the men in the audience not to touch her because that would be sexual harassment. Interestingly, many of the spectators accepted her comment totally and were nodding their heads politely in agreement. Logically they knew she wasn't real, but they automatically behaved as if she were.
Here's a short video clip showing part of the android demonstration:
From a technology perspective, the android is stationary and has air tubes running up through her feet and legs to operate the custom air servos that provide her realistic movement. The air compressor and associated electronics is located in a box about the size of a small, half height refrigerator. Due to all the ambient noise at the event, and the crowds, we really couldn't determine how loud or annoying Actroid's air system might actually be.
Kokoro, the company responsible for the development and marketing of Actroid DER 2, is actually a subsidiary of Sanrio Ltd - the 'Hello Kitty' company. In addition to some amazing mechanical creations like Actroid DER and a series of huge animatronic dinosaurs, Kokoro has also developed unique vending machines - including the popular Hello Kitty popcorn machines you've probably seen at major amusement parks.
One of Kokoro's less human and more menacing
In Japanese, the word 'kokoro' means 'heart', and the company is dedicated to using their technology to "... touch the hearts of the people." Their primary catch phrase, or theme, is "Doukoku - moving sculpture".
Kokoro doesn't do anything in a 'small' way...
It's also interesting to note that Kokoro was established as a company in 1984, just two years after the general release of "Blade Runner", the cinema classic based on Philip K. Dick's novel and question about androids dreaming. Could it be that the company founders drew their inspiration to create androids from Dick's work? One strong positive clue is the domain name that they selected for their company. They picked "kokoro-dreams.com". Obviously, they have very good taste in names.
Kokoro Company Ltd. Official Website (English)