by Dr. Rob van der Bijl, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Humanoids .................... Art .................... Toys .......

May 2008, RVDB Urban Planning launched a 'playful' research into robotics. Inspired by Isaac Asimov with his famous Sci-Fi novel 'I Robot'. Our research has mainly focused on the possibilities of humanoid robots. In the years that followed, a lot of inspiration was gained in Japan, where this type of robot was considered to have great future value.
Nevertheless, we eventually had to conclude that mature applications within the axiom of the 'humanoid robot' are actually hardly possible. In fact, it turns out to be a naive, not to say childish idea that the analogy with the human body would form a sound basis for practical and professional applications of robotics.
For successful applications, we should rather think of clearly defined environments, such as in many industries, in which robot machines perform strict tasks.

Humanoids .................... Art .................... Toys .......

Our research (the period May 2008 – December 2022 so far) is summarized on this page in three parts. Backgrounds and our own experiences with the idea of a humanoid robot fill the first part. With the remaining two parts we will discuss what we think can be done with that idea, namely making art and toys. Some examples of applications in the field of art are included in part 2. Finally, in the third part, we look at what we what we ultimately want to do: playing robots.
But first, here's a brief overview of our experience with artificial intelligence.

The Robotics Project is rooted in our previous research to knowledge based systems (1988-1998) that was partially funded by the Dutch Foundation for Applied Technical Science (STW). This research project was finalized as a PhD in June 1998 (University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands). See Repository TU-Delft.
RVDB applied knowledge based principles in several assignments and related projects (1998-2008). Predore - Precedent Documentation & Registration - represents a major enterprise in this field. See Predore at RVDB Urban Planning.


Our classic reference
Cover of I, Robot (left) and cover of the 1950 original (right).

In the future of Isaac Asimov car parking wouldn't resemble anything from nowadays automatic parking systems such as developed by Toyota Motor Corporation. In stead they would look like classic 1950s American car parks, however served by human-like Robot-Attendants. Moreover, in the world of Asimov the ambiguity of natural language would causes fundamental misunderstandings between humans and robots.

In the anthology I, Robot (1950) Asimov published comprehensively his 'Three Laws of Robotics'. One: a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Two: a robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Three: a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Whatever the quality of their 'positronic' brains may have be, in real future life Asimov's robots would be incapable to act. The laws would be simply rule-out their ability to act according given commands due to contradictions between the laws itself. And moreover due to contextual constrains not taken into account by the very same laws. Still we do love the work of 'robot pioneer' Asimov. We have read the Bantam reprint of I Robot (May 2008) with great pleasure. Particularly we liked the struggle of both humans and robots so as to meet the requirements of the three laws. Our latest re-reading: December 2022!

Japan revisited
ZMP and some of their 'Robots of Everything' - photo by Rob van der Bijl, Tokyo, May 19, 2022.

May 2022: During a visit to a fair in Tokyo, we met the company ZMP and their 'Robots of Everything'. Indeed, less humanoid, but the eyes of the robot cars still try to endear us. Meanwhile in Japan, work on human robots continues persistently. See this overview by the Wall Street Journal.

Confusion in Japan
Lined up, in store prizes machine - photo by Rob van der Bijl, Tokyo, October 13, 2018.

October 2018: In Japan it is often not easy to distinguish between humans and animals, or between dolls and robots, or between humanoids and animaloids. Even the grabber is creating confusion. Is this a simple device or a hanging robot, or robot crane? Our investigation continues …

This is not a robot

Le robot qui ne rêvait pas… - photo by Rob van der Bijl, September 6, 2014.

September 2014: This is not a robot. It’s a simple, toy-like table-top object. Still it mirrors robot culture, it alludes to our techno-oriented culture, full of believes in engaged robotics and blessed technology. Will robots ever dream? A valid question or not. Will this clock-robot ever dream of electric sheep, or hairy cats? Watch our video from the French department of our Robotics Lab.

Japanese Robots have a Soul!
Geminoid F at a concert (Photo courtesy: Watasi Nana).

February 2013: Famous Japanese 'Robo Prof' Hiroshi Ishiguro attempts to mimic shape, expression, motion, and behavior of human beings. His robots have a 'soul'. They act as closely as possible to human beings.
Japanese robots, including virtual computer girls, possess a spirit. Japanese animism and particularly Shinto-oriented 'conceptual systems', back the believe that robots and objects are more than just things. Geminoid-F of Hiroshi Ishiguro proves that the border between robots and people is not very sharp in Japan. Watch his video at Vimeo, 'Everything has a soul'.

At Robosquare, Fukuoka, Japan

AIBO at Robosquare, Fukuoka, Japan - photo by Rob van der Bijl, April 16, 2010.

April 2010: RVDB was received in the intimate exhibition space of Robosquare, Fukuoka, Japan. And introduced to AIBO, the robotic pet of Sony, still performing here, though production ceased in 2006. However, again introduced when the fourth generation model was launched in 2018. And yes, still we do love the mass-marketed AIBO. See our little movie 'Aibo Dancing' made at Robosquare.

PARO at Robosquare, Fukuoka, Japan - photos by Rob van der Bijl, April 16, 2010.

PARO is a Mental Commitment Robot, shaped as a seal. Unlike industrial robots, "Mental Commitment Robots" are developed to interact with human beings and to make them feel emotional attached to the robots. These robots trigger more subjective considerations, evoking mental impressions such as 'cuteness'.

Footage from PARO promotion video at Robosquare, Fukuoka, Japan - compillation by Rob van der Bijl, April 16, 2010.

Mixed feelings certainly. The video (see footage) proves more or less the effectiveness of PARO, but we're still not sure if this "Mental Commitment Robot" represents the ultimate solution. The human-machine relation is perhaps too artificial or at least very mechanical and poor.

Part 2 - ART

Robot Ladies
Footage from the video at YouTube.

"All Is Full of Love" is a song by Björk, from her album Homogenic. The video is a nice example of entertainment which alludes to the existence of human like robots - robot ladies actually as the video at YouTube proves.

Brain Mock

Left: Eureka Robot in the shop window - photo by Rob van der Bijl, Portland (Oregon. US) August 7, 2009. Right: at the website of Brain Mock.

Years ago Brian Mock explained that he was ‘intrigued by the challenge of creating something unique, fun, and inherently curious’. We particularly were impressed by his robot figure (the Eureka Robot) which we encountered by coincidence during a walk in the city of Portland, Oregon (US). Brain applies unusual found objects and everyday items into his sculptures. Meanwhile his work has developed impressively – please, visit his website full of ‘fine art created from 100% reclaimed materials’.


Robothespian at Industrion, Kerkrade, Netherlands - photo by Rob van der Bijl, February 20, 2009.

RoboThespian™ is a life-sized humanoid exhibition exhibit, a robot actor whose primary function is theatrical performance. RoboThespian™ was created to educate, communicate, interact and entertain. See more at Engineered Arts.

Strandbeest model - photo by Rob van der Bijl, The Hague, September 21, 2015.

Many times we encountered the artist Theo Jansen and his 'Strandbeests' at the beach of The Hague (Netherlands). Theo is a Dutch artist who builds a kind of wind propelled robots that he calls "a new form of live". Although strictly speaking not humanoids, Theo Jansen's beasts certainly resemble animaloids.

Strandbeest model on Orange Beach - photo by Rob van der Bijl, October 9, 2011.

We tested a miniature version of 'Animaris Ordis Parvus' on Orange Beach at our Robotics Lab. Watch our video. More information at the site of Theo Jansen,


Robodock Fragment of a model during the day after, Amsterdam, Netherlands- photo by Rob van der Bijl, September 26, 2010.

Robodock (1998-2012) was the pre-eminent art and technology festival of the Netherlands, with its awe-inspiring kinetic sculptures, pyro-installations, absurdist acts, robots, live-music and DJ’s.

Robodock The 'Egg' construction, part of The Fenix project, during the day after, Amsterdam, Netherlands - photo by Rob van der Bijl, September 26, 2010.

The Fenix at Robodock 2010 was highlight of an event full of overwhelming mechanical sculptures, magical sounds and robots.
The Fenix, designed by 2012Architects, Césare Peeren & Arie van Ziel - Construction: Robodock team, Ruud Panhuizen & Bart Sabel.

Part 3 - Toys

Vintage toys

Collection of toy robots at Industrion, Kerkrade, Netherlands - photo by Rob van der Bijl, February 20, 2009.

There are many collections around the world. Like the one we checked at Industrion. More on this subject at the Osaka Tin Toy Institute.

Sex toys

Book cover

We enjoyed reading this book about sex robots that push the potentially humanoid nature of robots to the limit. Perhaps Levy is right that eventually (he once mentioned the year 2050) these types of sex toys will have become routinely accepted by the public. That does not alter the fact that it can still be problematic to view prostitution as a case model of sexual relationships.

Some of our references:

David Levy; Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships.
HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.
Or the PhD-version:
Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners. Maastricht University (Netherlands), October 2007.

Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio; Robo Sapiens: Evolution of a New Species.
MIT Press, 2000.

Ian Yeoman, Michelle Mars; Robots, men and sex tourism. In: Futures, Volume 44, Issue 4, May 2012, Pages 365-371.

Lambèr Royakkers, Floortje Daemen & Rinie van Est; Overal robots: automatisering van de liefde tot de dood. Boom/Lemma, 2012.

More tin robot toys

Image Yonezawa compilation by Rob van der Bijl.

We like the vintage tin robot toys, for instance the Robby from Yonezawa. Is this robot a man or a machine? Dome Head Robby Robot is a reproduction of the famous Japanese original (like our Robby we used in the experiments presented below). With his cute human face and sparking neck he appears to be having a good day on an alien planet. We love to wind him up and then like watching his sparkling lights and sounds as he moves his feet and walks ahead. He has an on/off switch at his red and yellow front panel. His two brothers Cone Head and Dome Head share the same body and silver wrench-arms.

Our Robby ProjectAll Robby photos by Rob van der Bijl.

May 2008 RVDB launched the ROBBY Project which served as the prologue of our investigation into the use of humanoid robots.

ROBBY's Data - Weight: 0,325 kilo - Length: 214 mm - Average diameter of torso: 70 mm - Applied materials: metals and plastics - Propulsion: 3 volt electric motor - Average speed: 51 cm/sec

ROBBY is the name of a Japanese designed toy-bot. Our replica vintage model (bought at FAO Schwarz, 5th Avenue New York) is in exact scale to the original Piston Action Robot produced in the 1950's by Nomura in Japan. A wired remote control enables the robot to walk with bouncing lighted pistons behind its dome. RVDB subjected the robot to several experiments and loved the human form analogy which clearly resembles a still existing believe that real robots should behave and look like human beings. Though this isn't necessarily true, the idea that a robot should incorporate human characteristics is still widespread and in Japan the ground of a very successful robot industry and practice.

'Burned by the Sun' was our very first experiment, exposing ROBBY to natural sunlight. Due to this light the robot's forms and articulations were brightly visualized. We still love this experiment that offered us fun and moreover the insight that the human form analogy is powerful and expressive.

'Encountering Ricky' confronted ROBBY with an animal. This second experiment briefly addressed the robot-animal relation, as ROBBY was situated as close as possible to our cat Ricky (the brother of our other cat Rocky). Ricky didn't seem to have any problem with the robot. After having activated ROBBY the cat showed no emotion and the cat turned its head while ROBBY was waiting.

In our third experiment 'Reflected & Rayed' ROBBY was placed in a microwave oven. First we studied the interior's reflections while ROBBY was being rotated. Then we decided not to switch on the microwave utility as we feared that ROBBY would be rayed and roasted. Sometimes an experiment has to be halted at a premature moment. Non-applied technical science isn't always easy.

ROBBY's bouncing lighted pistons represent obvious dynamic characteristics of the robot. In 'Exploring Dungeons', our fourth experiment ROBBY was walking in the dark, while we were closely monitoring the visual patterns of the moving lights in its dome. We didn't analysed the pattern of ROBBY's beaming light, however we feel that our monitoring activities exposed a basic feature of toy-bots like ROBBY, that is its shining and attractive appearance due to the interaction of the light facility and the robot's metal skin.

Then the fifth and final experiment 'Walking Ways' that was subjected to measurements and analysis of ROBBY's basic quality, namely the ability to walk. A set of small wheels in the bottom side of each of ROBBY's feet allows the robot to walk. When the rotation of the axe within the on board electric motor is mechanically transferred to the 'joints' of both legs it really happens. Yes! ROBBY is walking. As his legs are moving forwards and backwards the wheels in both feeds start rolling and ROBBY is walking, and not riding as sometimes has been suggested. The walking capabilities are primarily linked to the movement of the propulsed legs and not the wheels as such.
We let ROBBY walking freely while marking his path. The considered route measured 68 centimetres. Allowed walking time was established at 80 seconds. These data allowed us to calculate the average speed of ROBBY: 0,51 meter per minute.
However, the main subject of this experiment was the analysis of ROBBY's path pattern. The manually added white bullets along ROBBY's path marked 16 segments. The sequence of virtual line segments visualised a basic feature of the way ROBBY walks. Not in a straight line! After several repeats of the experiment we were able to draw a conclusion: each of ROBBY's trips is more or less characterized by a similar pattern. ROBBY's way isn't straight, though predictable.

Original of the Piston Action Robot (ROBBY) at a shop in Nakano (Tokyo, Japan) - photo by Rob van der Bijl, April 4, 2009.

Epiloque - in Broadway, the famous mall of Nakano (Tokyo) we spotted an original of ROBBY (April, 2009). Built in 1950 and now for sale for 150.000 yen. ROBBY was and still is a special robot indeed!

(C) Rob van der Bijl (RVDB's Robotics Lab), Amsterdam NETHERLANDS, May 2008 - February 2023