Into the Uncanny Valley: Why Scientists in Japan Are Spanking Robots

If someone were to ask you the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “Japan”, many would immediately reply “Robots!” Japan is definitely on the cutting edge of robotic science, and one of their latests projects is a rather realistic human bum.

ShiriThey call it SHIRI, the Japanese word for buttocks, and it was created for a few different reasons. They wanted to work on improving realistic muscle simulation and touch sensitivity, as well as learn how people would react to entering what’s known as The Uncanny Valley.

Please don't crawl across my ceiling.

Please don’t crawl across my ceiling.

The idea of the uncanny valley is simple. Cold, mechanical robots are boring, and science has been fascinated with the concept of building robots in our own image.

But as robotic constructs became more realistic, a strange phenomenon occurred.

Realism is good, but only up to a point.

Once a robot reaches a certain level of realism, the human mind instinctively rejects the image and it creates a reaction of fear, distrust, or even nausea.

It’s referred to as a valley, because hypothetically if a robot reaches perfect realism, the feeling goes away. It’s the almost realism that disturbs our minds.

The Future Now has a great video explaining the phenomenon with examples from around the web:



SHIRI is another step along the road to realism. Project researchers are trying to perfect muscular movement and touch sensitivity to help bridge the gap across the uncanny valley. Most of our most realistic robotic humans currently fall into the put of the uncanny valley because they’re realistic, but not realistic enough. Something is still…off. Even though robots like Asimo don’t have realistic faces, even the movement is unnerving because of its realism, which is what caused several children to cry when I went to a demonstration in Tokyo.

Here’s SHIRI’s demonstration video with more information on the project:


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