How efficient is human speech? It seems to work well for us, because we need to breathe anyway, so we might as well use our exhalation to make sounds to communicate.
But for Robots?
Robots don’t use respiration in the functioning of their body, so what is the point of making Robots that use air to vocalize?
The point isn’t entirely to creep us out. Once this kind of thing is perfected it could be used to augment or replace damaged humans who are no longer able to use their own bodies to make intelligible sounds.
The Waseda Talker is one project with the goal of refining Robotic speech, but if you watch the videos at the end of the page they really haven’t managed to produce anything but moaning sounds (which, depending on the purpose of the Robot, might work out just fine)
I guess the ultimate goal of these project is to develop a ‘more natural’ kind of speech for Androids. So far the results haven’t been too convincing though. Human speech is so complex that there aren’t really any other animals that can do it. Walking, grasping, climbing, running, seeing, these are all things humans and animals are able to do quite easily and replicating that behavior in Robots has been challenging, but not impossible. Only humans can speak with any subtlety and I predict it will be decades before we can get Robots to replicate that.
As I said earlier though, Robots don’t need to pass air in and out of their bodies the way humans do, so perhaps this is the wrong approach to developing mechanical vocalization.
Oh, I just had a thought. Robots do need to circulate air, as a way of cooling their machinery and computers. Interesting.
A couple of questions I expect Science Fiction authors to contemplate from now on:
- What will the Robot accent sound like? It won’t be the stereotypical “Heh-low I am a Ro-Bot” if this method of generating speech is generated, but it also won’t be the same as any human accent.
- What does robot breath smell like? Will it be like the air coming out of your computer? Will it smell of lubricant and dust?
I’ve included a couple of videos of creepy Robot vocalization prototypes after the cut.