When considering the word "robot," the first image that comes to mind is often a cold, metal machine, often performing a single or limited set of functions. A robot may possess appendages that resemble human anatomy, like an arm or an eye, but those are purely functional.
Some engineers, however, are trying to perfect robots whose function is to be more like humans.
Just last week we learned about the world's first robot built entirely of advanced prostheses, from its limbs to its face to its advanced circulatory system. The Bionic Man, as the automaton is being called, can walk and even speak, thanks to a "a sophisticated chatbot program that can carry on a conversation," according to LiveScience's Tanya Lewis.
This robot isn't the only machine built to imitate a man. In this slideshow, explore robots that are, each in their own way, almost human.
As Aristotle famously said, "Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." Thanks to technology, it no longer matters whether those bodies are made of flesh and blood or steel and plastic.
A project by German artists Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler and Carolin Liebl, "Vincent and Emily" are two simple robots programmed to love -- and occasionally fall out of love -- with one another. Each robot is composed of a "head" of motors, gears and sensors mounted on a box that can reach around the height of an adult human.
As far as social interactions between the robots, they're designed to respond to each other's movements. As DNews' Alyssa Danigelis explains: "If Vincent sends positive signals to Emily by moving up and down, she might interpret them as negative and move away."
It seems that Vincent and Emily were made for each other -- literally.
It can be lonely on Mars, even for robots. This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was taken from dozens of exposures rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
Away on a mission more than 200 million miles away from home, Curiosity sang "Happy Birthday" to itself. Although anything celebrating a birthday all by itself might be a lonely and sad occasion, Curiosity's birthday tune also marked a milestone: It was the first time a song was transmitted from another planet to Earth, as DNews' Ian O'Neill reports.
Robots don't learn. They're programmed to perform certain functions. But what is a robot could be programmed to learn like a child?
A humanoid iCub robot was enlisted by a group of researchers from University of Hertfordshire to determine whether a machine could learn like a human. The computer scientists programmed their robot with the approximately 40,000 syllables that comprise the English language.
Named DeeChee, the robot participated in eight-minute dialogues with one of 34 people who acted as teachers, encouraging the robot when it connected syllables into words rather than randomly joining them together. Eventually, the robot used words more often than random syllables.
Few parts of the body are as simultaneously completely essential to people and totally nonessential to robots quite like the human butt.
For reasons that can't be explained by, well, reason, robotics engineer Nobuhiro Takahashi and his team at the Tokyo University of Electro-Communications created a lifelike mechanical butt that looks and acts like the real thing. Called Shiri, meaning buttocks, the automaton "represents emotions with visual and tactual transformation of the muscles," according to its creators.
If it looks like a human, sounds like a human, feels like a human -- well, the point is: robot sex.
Presenting Roxxxy, the robotic companion who will -- like the rovers sent to other planets -- go where no human dares venture.
Originally intended as a health aid to care for patients with Alzheimer's disease and other conditions, Roxxxy's designers decided that instead of a medical career, the robot would be better repurposed for the sex industry.
The cost of the robot ranges from $7,000 to $9,000, and each is created with its own feisty personality, ranging from shy [Frigid Farrah] to adventurous [S&M Susan].
Robot companions needn't solely be used to fulfill the baser needs of those afflicted with involuntary abstinence. They can also be built to help people with real problems.
Created by Masayoshi Kanoh of Japan's Chukyo University in Aichi, a baby-like robot named Babyloid is acting as a companion to the elderly. The robot has touch sensors to respond to contact and rocking motions, changing its mood according to how its caretaker handles it. The robot can cry, giggle, open and close its eyes, and more.
The robot's designer intends for Babyloid to be used to treat elderly people suffering coping with loneliness and depression.
When you can't be around to look after your dog, it's nice to know that your pet can still be taken care of.
Researchers studying dog cognition may have inadvertently stumbled on a half-decent petsitter. The robot, which DNews' Jesse Empak describes as "a bit like a parking meter with arms and white-gloved hands," can effectively interact with the animal with a combination of gestures and voice commands. The more human-like the robot's movements, the more the dogs responded.
In your last moments in this life, being in the company of a loved one can be a precious consolidation. Alternatively, if they can't make it or you just don't have any loved ones you'd care to see, there's also a robot that can be the witness to your final minutes on Earth.
Artist and engineer David Chen has invented the "Last Moment Robot," a machine that ensures you won't be alone when you die. This robot promises a gentle transition with its cold, steel limbs -- they're not hands really -- caressing the dying person's head and reassuring with its gentle, digitized voice.
Thankfully, the machine is more of an artistic experiment than a practical, end-of-life automaton.