The Alter android line was developed in 2016 in order to research not what can be done by automation, but rather how human beings would react to an autonomous robot. It is being pursued jointly with the University of Tokyo and Osaka University in order to explore fundamental questions of whether robots can obtain a sense of life, and what life itself may mean.
Alter is not intended to be an android identical in appearance to human beings. Rather, only the face, neck, and arms up to the elbows are outfitted with prosthetic skin. The other parts are exposed machinery, with forty-two actuators (a computer-controlled system using compressed air) moving like joints. These movements are not pre-programmed, but rather based on a central pattern generator (CPG), which functions like the human spinal cord, and a neutral network of 1,000 simulated neurons that fire in real-time. In addition, optical and distance sensors allow for autonomous and spontaneous movement, creating a profusion of actions based on reacting to the surrounding people and environment. This results in unexpected movements even the developers could not foresee, and the memory of these actions in turn allows Alter to continue evolving.
The name Alter comes from the concept of internal change and transformation of the android, as well as the notion of a second self, or “alter ego,” and the idea of this being an “alternative” form of expression and life.
Alter 3 is the third generation in this line. New cameras have been installed in the eyes, and the mouth is now capable of producing sound, with dynamic movement also incorporated. In addition, it comes equipped with the ALIFE Engine™, our dynamics generation engine, with the operating system and all aspects of the robot software having been developed by our firm.
Direction & programming: Takashi Ikegami research laboratory (University of Tokyo)
Hardware: A-lab, Kohei Ogawa, Hiroshi Ishiguro (Osaka University)
Software Architecture Design & Programming: Itsuki Doi, Takashi Ikegami (University of Tokyo), Atsushi Masumori, and Norihiro Maruyama (Alternative Machine Inc.)
Alter3 Simulator: mixi Inc.