David Hanson is a lead global authority in AI and Robotics and CEO of Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based robotics company known for creating robots that look and act genuinely alive.
David Hanson is globally known for creating Sophia the Robot and other robots designed to mimic human behavior. Activated on February 14, 2016, Sophia is considered one of the most advanced robots in the world. Sophia imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is able to answer certain questions and to make simple conversations on predefined topics (e.g., on the weather). Sophia has received widespread media attention and was the first robot to be granted citizenship.
Hanson has extensive experience as a sculptor and animator, having worked with Walt Disney, Universal Studios and MTV. As a researcher and has received numerous awards for his work. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in film/animation/video, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas in interactive arts and engineering.
David Hanson was born in 1969 in Dallas, Texas, United States. Hanson went on to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in film/animation/video. Later on, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas in interactive arts and engineering. Hanson’s dissertation was entitled Development of an Advanced Respirator Fit-Test Headform.
One of his first important works in AI and robotics came in 1995, when as part of an independent-study project on out-of-body experiences, he built a humanoid head in his own likeness, operated by a remote operator.
Before going to find his own company, David worked as an animator, sculptor and as a technical consultant in robotics for Hollywood-based companies like Walt Disney, Universal Studios and MTV.
But Hanson’s career and true passion has always been developing AI to new limits and creating humanlike robots. After the experiment of 1995, the next great milestone in his career was in 2004 at a Denver American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. There, Hanson presented K-Bot, a robotic head created with polymer skin, finely sculpted features, and big blue eyes. Named after his lab assistant Kristen Nelson, the robot head had 24 servo motors for realistic movement and cameras in its eyes.
Also, in 2004 Hanson built the humanoid robot Hertz, a female presenting animated robot head that took about nine months to build.
In 2013, David Hanson founded Hanson Robotics, originally in Austin, Texas, the company is now a Hong Kong-based engineering and robotics company, known for its development of human-like robots with artificial intelligence (AI) for consumer, entertainment, service, healthcare, and research applications. The company had AI leader Ben Goertzel as chief scientist.
Under the Hanson Robotics umbrella, David Hanson and his team has built many different robots, taking the AI and the technology to new levels in each installment. The most prominent, which has received international media coverage for the level of high-tech used is Sophia the Robot.
Sophia was first activated on February 14, 2016. The robot, modeled after the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, Audrey Hepburn, and her inventor’s wife, Amanda Hanson, is known for human-like appearance and behavior compared to previous robotic variants. As of 2018, Sophia’s architecture includes scripting software, a chat system, and OpenCog, an AI system designed for general reasoning. Sophia imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is able to answer certain questions and to make simple conversations on predefined topics (e.g. on the weather). Sophia uses speech recognition technology from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google) and is “designed to get smarter over time”. Her speech synthesis ability is provided by Cereproc’s Text-to-Speech engine and also allows her to sing. Sophia’s intelligence software is designed by Hanson Robotics. The AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future.
Hanson designed Sophia to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, or to help crowds at large events or parks. He has said that he hopes that the robot can ultimately interact with other humans sufficiently to gain social skills. Sophia is marketed as a “social robot” that can mimic social behavior and induce feelings of love in humans.
Other robots designed and created by Hanson include:
Zeno, a two-foot tall robot designed in the style of a cartoon boy, provides treatment sessions to children with autism in Texas as a result of a collaboration between the University of Texas at Arlington, Dallas Autism Treatment Center, Texas Instruments and National Instruments, and Hanson.
Albert Einstein HUBO, a robotic head designed to look like Albert Einstein’s and put it on top of the “HUBO” bipedal robotic frame, and Professor Einstein, a 14.5-inch personal robot that engages in conversation and acts as a companion/tutor.
As a researcher, Hanson published dozens of papers in materials science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and robotics journals — including SPIE, IEEE, the International Journal of Cognitive Science, IROS, AAAI, AI magazine and more. He wrote two books including “Humanizing Robots” and received several patents.
· Hanson, D., Mazzei, D., Garver, C., De Rossi, D., Stevenson, M., ”Realistic Humanlike Robots for Treatment of ASD, Social Training, and Research; Shown to Appeal to Youths with ASD, Cause Physiological Arousal, and Increase Human-to-Human Social Engagement”, PETRA (PErvasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environment), 2012.
· Mazzei, D., Lazzeri, N., Hanson, D., De Rossi, D. “HEFES: An Hybrid Engine for Facial Expressions Synthesis to Control Human-Like Androids and Avatars”, The Fourth IEEE RAS/EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics, 2012.
· Bergman, M., Zhuang, Z., Palmiero, A., Wander, J., Heimbuch, B., McDonald, M., Hanson, D., “Development of an Advanced Respirator Fit Test Headform”, AIHce in Indianapolis, IN, 2012.
· Hanson D., Baurmann S., Riccio T., Margolin R., Dockins T., Tavares M., Carpenter, K., “Zeno: a Cognitive Character”, AI Magazine, and special Proc. of AAAI National Conference, Chicago, 2009.
· Tadesse, Yonas; Priya, Shashank; Stephanou, Harry; Popa, Dan. and Hanson, David “Piezoelectric actuation and sensing for Facial Robotics” Journal of Ferroelectrics, vol. 345, Issue1, pp.13–25, 2006 (12 pages).
· Hanson D., Bergs R., Tadesse Y., White V., Priya S. “Enhancement of EAP Actuated Facial Expressions by Designed Chamber Geometry in Elastomers”, Proc. SPIE‘s Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices Conf., 10TH Smart Structures and Materials Symposium, San Diego, USA, 2006.
· Hanson D. “Expanding the Aesthetics Possibilities for Humanlike Robots”, Proc. IEEE Humanoid Robotics Conference, special session on the Uncanny Valley; Tskuba, Japan, December 2005.
· Hanson D. “Bioinspired Robotics”, chapter 16 in the book Biomimetics, ed. Yoseph Bar- Cohen, CRC Press, October 2005.
· Hanson D., White V. “Converging the Capabilities of ElectroActive Polymer Artificial Muscles and the Requirements of Bio-inspired Robotics”, Proc. SPIE‘s Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices Conf., 10TH Smart Structures and Materials Symposium, San Diego, USA, 2004.
· Hanson D., “Chapter 18: Applications for Electrically Actuated Polymer Actuators,” in Electrically Actuated Polymer Actuators as Artificial Muscles, Bar-Cohen Y. (Ed.) SPIE PRESS, Washington, USA, Vol. PM98, 2nd ed. March 2004.
· Hanson, D. “Bio-inspired Facial Expression Interface for Emotive Robots”, Proc. AAAI National Conference in Edmonton, CA, 2002.
· Hanson D. and Pioggia G., “Entertainment Applications for Electrically Actuated Polymer Actuators,” Ch 18 of Electrically Actuated Polymer Actuators as Artificial Muscles, SPIE PRESS, Washington, USA, Vol. PM98, Ch. 18, 2001.
Hanson argues precise human looks are a must if people are going to effectively communicate with robots. Hanson believes social humanoid robots have the potential to serve humanity in a variety of functions and helping roles, like tutor, companion, or security guard. He argues the realism of his work has the potential to pose “an identity challenge to the human being,” and that realistic robots may polarize the market between those who love realistic robots and those who find them disturbing. Many of Hanson’s creations currently serve at research or non-profit institutions around the world, including at the University of Cambridge, University of Geneva, University of Pisa and in laboratories for cognitive science and AI research.
About AI development. “For AI to truly become the disruptive technology we expect it has to be seen and developed as a cultural technology. We are developing AI and robots that will help us, that will take care of that and the planet, not to destroy us.”
He said: “I had a fascination with art, science fiction, and philosophy, dreaming of what robots could be. I imagined that if artificial intelligence ever did match human intelligence that it would re-design itself to be ever smarter, ever faster, you would have something like a Moore’s Law of super intelligent machines.”
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