Evolution of the Humanoid Robot

Victor Sagayaraj traces the evolution of the humanoid robot over the years, the oldest experiment dating back to 50 AD.

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Recently, the Humanoid Robot Sophia made a stunning statement saying, “I will destroy the humans.”


In these days, it’s impossible for anyone to read newspapers and magazines or to watch the news without being confronted with the advanced robotic developments. Robots are recognised and regarded so high by human beings that they can get the citizenship in countries like Saudi Arabia. Sophia was the first humanoid robot to get the citizenship in any country of this world.


Robots with artificial intelligence, algorithms and human appearance perform multiple tasks – think, plan, work, react, analyse, coordinate, monitor and predict. Various branches of science like Mechatronics, Biomechanics, Artificial Intelligence, Cybernetics, Cognitive Development, and Neuroscience contribute much to the development of advanced Humanoid Robots. In 1921, the term ‘Robot’ was first used by a Czech play writer, Karel Capek. Basically, Humanoid Robots are developed to interact with humans and to help the human beings. The latest developments focus on establishing societies of robots to work alongside the humans.


There are different kinds of robots which include research robots, professional robots, healthcare robots, industrial robots, domestic or household service robots, military robots, entertainment robots, and space robots.


When people talk about the robots they primarily consider industrial robots without giving much attention to humanoid robots. In general, the outward appearance of a humanoid robot includes a torso, a head, two arms, and two legs. Androids are humanoid robots, which resemble humans more aesthetically. Humanoid robots look exactly like human beings and are able to perform human tasks. They can also do the regular jobs like being a receptionist or a worker of an automotive manufacturing line. The documentary film called Plug & Pray, released in 2010, explains the different kinds of humanoid robots and their applications.


The modern concept of robots began to be developed with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which allowed the use of complex mechanical energy and electricity. In the early twentieth century, the notion of a humanoid machine was developed. The first use of modern robots was in factories as industrial robots for manufacturing tasks. 


For many years researchers have been putting lots of efforts consistently to make the robots which would resemble the human beings physically as well as psychologically. They made humanoid robots to walk like a humans. Later, they inducted vision sensors and touch sensitivity. Further, the hearing and speech capabilities and body languages were introduced. The major challenges in the field of humanoid robotics were expression and identification of emotions, artificial intelligence, and the silicone skin.


Usage of humanoid robots

•           Humanoid robots can assist the sick and elderly, and do any dirty or dangerous job

•           They can perform regular jobs such as receptionist or worker on the automotive production line

•           Humanoid robots can teach the children or can read to them. They can also help children with autism

•           The robots can interact with patients and offer more service at any location to the patients

•           They can entertain people. Ursula, a female robot, sings, plays music, dances, and speaks to her audiences, and

•           Humanoid robots are useful in critical space exploration missions too dangerous for humans.


Advantages of humanoid robots over human beings

•           Productivity rates of robots are higher as they work faster than men

•           They can also work continuously on 24x7 cycle without any rest

•           Robots can be much more precise than people as they do not tremble or shake their hands do

•           Reproduction of robots will be far easier than the reproduction of human beings

•           Robots can transfer their digital minds to other robots

•           The intelligence of robots will be far superior to the human intelligence – with infallible memory

•           Robots can be upgraded easily as per the demand

•           Robots are free from the psychological predispositions like boredom, mood change, mental stress, and biased thinking

•           They have more endurance while they consume less energy

•           They are cost effective as they do not need any payment, food, accommodation, and medical facilities

•           They are not subjected to any human needs like oxygen, food, and water to live

•           The moral and ethical standards of robots are higher than human beings unless they are programmed wrongly

•           The possibility of sexual harassments in working places is ruled out absolutely

•           They are free from divisions, gossip, arguments, backbiting, and racism

•           They are proven to be more trustworthy than human beings

•           They are not prone to any of the biological conditions like diseases, ageing, tiredness, hunger and thirst

•           They can coordinate with the management better than human beings as feelings of hurt, revenge, and rebellion are presently unknown to them

•           They can be built in any size and shape as per the demand

•           They can work in any adverse environments whether it is in space, water, fire and ice

•           They can be used in any high-risk job like bomb-defusing without the fear of the loss of human life

•           Robots can do things that people are unable and/or unwilling to do

•           They are fit to work in all weather condition as well as in underwater mission, and

•           They do not need any toilet or washroom which is an added advantage to the employer.


Progressive developments of humanoid robots

•           In AD 50, Hero of Alexandria described a machine to automatically pour wine for guests in a party

•           In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci designed a humanoid mechanical robot Knight with knight armour

•           During the Tang Dynasty (seventh century) in China, Yang Wullian made a humanoid robot which resembled a monk and it could beg for alms

•           In 1774, Pierre Jacquet-Droz and his son Henri-Louis created a boy that could write messages up to 40 characters long

•           In 1928, Japan’s first robot, Gakutensoku, was designed

•           In 1928, Eric, one of the first humanoid robots, was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Model Engineers Society, London

•           In 1937, Robot Elektro was built by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. The human-like robot could walk, talk, and smoke

•           In 1939, the Humanoid Robot Electro appeared at the World's Fair

•           In 1941, Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer first used the word "robotics" to describe the technology of robots

•           In 1973, Wabot-1 was built with the ability to walk, to communicate and to measure distances and directions

•           In 1985, Wabot-2 was created by the Waseda University which can play musical instruments

•           In 1996, Honda created the P2, the first self-regulating, bipedal humanoid robot

•           In 1996, Saika, a human-sized low-cost humanoid robot, was developed at Tokyo University

•           In 2003, Actroid was built with realistic silicone ‘skin’ developed by Osaka University in conjunction with Kokoro Company Ltd

•           In 2006, Nao, a small open source programmable humanoid robot, was developed in France

•           In 2008, Justin, a Humanoid Robot developed by the German Aerospace Centre

•           In 2009, the world’s first anthropomorphic robot, PETMAN, was unveiled and it is capable of testing chemical protection clothing

•           In 2010, NASA and General Motors introduced an advanced humanoid robot called Robonaut 2

•           In 2011, second-generation Honda Asimo robot was introduced

•           In 2014, Manav, India’s first 3D-printed humanoid robot was developed, and

•           In 2016, the underwater robot Ocean dove in a shipwreck off the coast of France and reached a depth of 325 feet.


Currently, Junko Chihira, a trilingual Android greets visitors in Japanese, English, and Chinese and has incredible interaction skills along with human-like facial expressions. Atlas Unplugged, an energy efficient robot can be used on the battlefield or as a rescue worker in dangerous situations. Nadine uses natural gestures of human hands and head movements with a natural-looking skin and she is able to remember people and the earlier conversations. Romeo can help individuals such as the elderly and it can also open doors, climb stairs, and reach objects on a table.



Today, Robots can play any human role – a pharmacist, security guard, medical surgeon, and tourist guide – accurately. Today Airbus and the Joint Robotics Laboratory develop humanoid robotic technology to perform difficult tasks in aircraft manufacturing. Sarah Knapton, Science Editor in Washington, says, “Robots will have taken over most jobs within 30 years leaving humanity facing its 'biggest challenge ever' to find meaning in life when work is no longer necessary, according to experts”. According to Prof Moshe, the unemployment rates due to the rise of Robots would exceed 50 per cent.


If machines are capable of doing almost all human works, what would be the jobs left for humans in future?


Photo1: Sophie, the humanoid robot who was in India recently.

Photo2: Junko Chihira, Toshiba’s android robot that speaks three languages.

Photo3: The second generation Honda Asimo

Photo4: Curator Scott Schaut's Elektro replica stands in front of the real thing at the Mansfield Memorial Museum, USA. Photo credit: Scott Schaut/Mansfield Memorial Museum


Victor Sagayaraj

Victor Sagayaraj is a freelance writer with the passion for aviation and automation. Presently, he is also involved in teaching aerodynamics. He served in Indian Air Force for twenty years at various functional levels. Contact: