Artists and human-like machines: Here are the zaniest robots of 2022

Developed in Italy, iCub3 is an avatar, remote-controlled by its user.
Developed in Italy, iCub3 is an avatar, remote-controlled by its user.   -  Copyright  AP Screenshot
By Oceane Duboust  with AP

Robots from all over the world were busy in 2022 - from rolling on the slopes of Mount Etna to conducting an interview in London.

iCub3 is a project from the Italian Institute of Technology that enables a human operator to manipulate the robot remotely.

The robot can walk, wave and it is working on being able to do anything its human double is doing in sync.

Post-doctorate researcher Stefano Dafarra showed off its skills by putting on the robot’s suit elements that allow for an exchange of information between the team and the robot in real-time.

"Whenever I touch something, I feel a vibration on each finger, this is because the robot has some artificial skin mounted on each fingertip. This way whenever the robot touches something I can feel it, like a vibration on my fingers," said Dafarra.

The sensation is thanks to haptic feedback technology.

"We believe that this research direction has a tremendous potential in many fields," said the project's coordinator, IIT's Daniele Pucci. “The recent pandemic taught us that advanced telepresence systems might become necessary very quickly across different fields, like healthcare and logistics”.

But he said that on the other hand, avatars may allow people with severe physical disabilities to work and accomplish tasks in the real world via the robotic body, which “may be an evolution of rehabilitation and prosthetics technologies".

Are robots the future generation of artists?

Another field where robots are shaping the future is art.

Filippo Tincolini, co-founder of the two robotic companies TORART and ROBOTOR, thinks that robots have a role to play in the one thing that is said to make us human.

Tincolini created COT1, a robotic arm with a diamond-coated finger, which turns rapidly to carve marble in the historic city of Carrara in northern Italy.

Jets of water spray constantly to cool the stone as it is gently, but inexorably, worn down by the robot’s arm.

The software controlling the robot's every movement has taken years to develop but it now instructs the machine with unfailing precision to produce a work of art.

Pieces which used to take years for a sculptor to complete can now be carved in days.

But not everyone is convinced that this is the right way forward. Many believe that a sculpture must be done by hand, using traditional methods.

"Artisans who have not yet embraced this technology are wary, with the fear that their jobs or work will be stolen, but after an initial approach they understand the potential, begin to use it and their life changes, because they can work more, they can work better," said Tincolini.

Sculpting isn't the only art form robots are taking up. They have also taken up painting. The robot named Ai-Da has been called the "world's first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist" by its creators.

Developed in 2019, "she" was upgraded in April to be able to paint portraits of people.

Thanks to her arm and hand, she uses a normal colour palette and paintbrush.

Camera lenses are installed in her eyeballs to take a photo of the subject, which is then stored by the robot, and used as a reference for painting.

Ai-Da mostly drops paint onto a sheet of paper and is not yet able to fully blend colours together but the results are realistic.

And even if she doesn't have a mind of her own, Ai-Da knows numerous cultural references.

"I have a lot of inspirations from different places. I'm deeply inspired by the visual arts, also literature: Dante (Alighieri), (George) Orwell, Aldous Huxley," said Ai-Da, in response to a question from the Associated Press.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.