Plenty of real-world robots look this way, too. With steel torsos and rigid limbs, most robots aren’t exactly huggable. Put it this way: Imagine you see Atlas, the rugged humanoid robot made by Boston Dynamics, crunching its way down the sidewalk and coming toward you.
You’re probably going to be careful about approaching that thing, right? Which is a good call. But the distance between people and machines—the fact that robots aren’t more snuggly—poses a real problem for the future of robotics.
“I just do not see a way to have a Terminator-style robot take care of people,” said Christopher Atkeson, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon. “If you’re going to interact with soft human beings, you—mechanically—also should be lightweight or at least soft.”
Atkeson has given this matter a good deal of thought. He and his colleagues advised filmmakers as they were developing the concept for Baymax, the giant doughy robot in the 2014 animated film Big Hero 6. In Marvel comic books, Baymax was depicted as a shapeshifting robot. Its original form was a sort of Hulk-Godzilla mashup: a tall, jacked reptile with huge claws. For the Disney adaptation, filmmakers wanted to reinvent Baymax. “They wanted something completely different,” Atkeson told me. “They didn’t want to do another Terminator, or Transformer, or a Short Circuit.”