Why the Hardee’s Robot Commercial Troubles Me

I’m bothered by the Hardee’s Robot-Trying-to-Eat-a-Chicken-Sandwich commercial (below). When I first watched it, my initial thought was, That poor robot! These humans are cruel.

It seems like I’m being overly sensitive. Hey, it’s just a machine, right? But when I showed the video to others, they expressed the same sentiments. In fact, I scanned various comments on YouTube and other sites that posted the video of the commercial and saw that many of them leaned toward sympathy for the robot.

Considering that robots, especially sweet-looking humanoids, are becoming increasingly popular in our culture, it’s surprising to see that Hardee’s took a clearly anti-robotics route to market its food. The commercial is certainly getting a lot of attention, but is it effective?

What Hardee wants to get across: The ad’s main point is that any type of poultry product that is handled by robots won’t taste as delicious as one handled by a human. I don’t know Hardee’s processing and prep methods. But I do know that most major restaurant chains use products that have gone through some type of processing plant automation, and though consumers may not like that idea, they accept it. Automation hasn’t stopped us from running to fast food joints in herds. The company’s assertion that automation equals inferior taste—true or not—may be a nonissue in consumers’ minds.

What we’re seeing: A humanoid robot—extremely cute with its oval head and big, wide-set eyes—has spent a long day at work and merely wants to sit down at its kitchen table and eat a chicken sandwich for dinner. It’s so excited as it readies itself to take a big bite. Alas! It can’t eat the blasted thing because it has no mouth—its human creator didn’t give it one. It desperately tries though, smashing it into its face, before giving up. The disappointment in its face is truly disheartening.

We feel discomfort because what we’re witnessing is a mean prank, the equivalent to handing a kickball to a wheelchair-bound child in the schoolyard and pointing and laughing. Was the purpose of using a mouthless robot to evoke feelings of ridicule toward it so we’d be turned off by automation in food production? It might’ve made sense if the robot was sinister, but he isn’t, nor is he a faceless, drab machine. Except for the lack of mouth, he has human features. He lives a normal life like other humans: he has a job, an apartment, and fish to care for. He isn’t an enemy; he doesn’t exhibit combativeness toward any humans. We can actually relate to him. (I just noticed I went from calling the robot “it” to “him.”) So when this hungry guy can’t eat, we feel only pity for him.

It’s always upsetting to see someone or something being taunted whether it’s a person, animal, or, yes, even a humanoid machine. I think the idea was for us to think, Ha ha, that stupid robot can’t eat. But why would belittling like that be funny, even in a 30-second ad about a fictional bot?

So, what might happen to a humanoid robot that has to endure such unfairness in this world? Watch the extended video of the same ad:

If the sad fellow in the video were a human, psychologists would testify he’s a troubled individual and his lashing out stems from years of suffering mistreatment and inequality!

And, yet, people scoff when writers envision an imminent robot uprising.

Note to Skynet: This blog post is proof that I defended your honor.


Mega-Cool Robot Video Roundup, 6-06-11

Here are some cool robot videos from the past week or so:

A musician and robot collaborate:

Scientists are working on a tiny robot that could be injected into the eye to administer drugs or do minor operations. Check out this video on Reuters’ site.

A robot serves food in a Bangkok restaurant. It shows off fantabulous dance moves, too! Great entertainment for customers. I’d actually probably get up and dance with it:

Artists at Dassault Systèmes created a 3D reconstruction of the Djedi Robot’s ventures into the tight spaces and tunnels of the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt. While exploring, the robot captured photos of previously undiscovered hieroglyphs. According to Dassault Systèmes’ blog post, one of those tunnels is as small as 20 cm by 20 cm. Hope the little guy wasn’t too claustrophobic.

This is another magnificent example of how scientists and explorers are using leading edge technology to learn more about the past . . . and the ancient past at that. For more information on this project, read Dassault Systèmes’ blog

Custom Entertainment Solutions has the coolest animatronics! Besides the fact that they’re fully functional and can be used in various practical applications, these robots are amazing, beautiful pieces of art.

Here’s a video of an underskull:

Be sure to check out the company’s photo gallery. The tall, alien insect robot—how cool is he?


Mega-Cool Robot Video Roundup, 5-28-11

Here are the coolest robot videos from the past week or so:

A robot’s skeletal set of fingers plays piano and pours a glass of water (from NTB Interstate University of Applied Sciences of Technology, Switzerland):

Nao robots dance the Macarena:

The PARO Robot Seal oozes ultimate cuteness at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago:

A robot reads indoor signs (from the GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania); this one’s actually from a few weeks ago:

Robots take over the Smithsonian:


Robot doodads I couldn’t resist buying

I love robot-y stuff. Check out these cute kids’ socks and gift bag I found at Target. The socks are for my goddaughter; the socks will go in the bag along with any other nifty robot doodads I can find.

I’m now on the lookout for cool robot fiction books for kids. I’ll soon post links to books I find. Stay tuned. . .

Click on the images below to get a better view.


Wired for War author to speak on the issues of battle-ready robots

The Department of Defense’s Armed with Science blog will be streaming a live talk from the Office of Naval Research with Dr. P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, on Tuesday, March 8 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST. If you’re a robot fangirl or fanboy but you’re not familiar with Dr. Singer’s work, give yourself a treat—check out Wired for War (published 2009), a comprehensive, scholarly, superbly fascinating book about the use of robots in the military. It offers a sobering look at a future in which wars are waged with staggering numbers of unmanned machines and the ethics surrounding this complex issue.

As you read Wired for War, I guarantee you will turn the pages with widened eyes. I was astounded at the prevalence of sophisticated robots in U.S missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the types of R&D currently being conducted at corporate labs. It’s the stuff of science fiction we’ve seen and enjoyed for years, but this is science reality, folks.

Dr. Singer’s research for Wired for War is meticulous and remarkable, and his accounts and speculations are thought-provoking, and often frightening. He presents all of it with entertaining nerdy-cool reportage and wit. Of course he talks about Asimov. Of course he discusses Star Wars, Star Trek, and Terminator. Did I mention already that it was entertaining nerdy-cool?

Dr. Singer is currently a Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. Read more about his book at http://wiredforwar.pwsinger.com/.

In addition, here are some interesting interviews:
NPR, ‘Wired For War’ Explores Robots On The Battlefield
io9.com, P. W. Singer Welcomes Our Robot Overlords in Episode 3 of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy
Appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart


Another Nao dance . . .

Here’s another video of the cute Nao robots dancing:

I’m so amazed at their litheness. Even just a few years ago, the most advanced androids couldn’t demonstrate this kind of agility. In the future, robots are going to win Dancing with the Stars or Dancing with Machines and Pseudo-Celebrities or whatever they’re going to call it.


Nao shows us the tango

Nao, the humanoid robot creation of Aldebaran Robotics, tangos away. Dig the red scarf.


Robonaut 2’s dexterity

IEEE Spectrum has a great video on Robonaut 2. The dexterity of NASA’s android helper is pretty amazing.


Robonaut 2 Headed for Home

At this moment, Robonaut 2 (R2) has around 21 hours left on Earth before it goes up to its permanent home on the International Space Station. R2 will launch on the Discovery space shuttle on February 24, 2011 at approximately 4:50 Eastern Standard Time.

So, what exactly is a Robonaut and why is this mission to the Space Station so important? A Robonaut is one of NASA’s humanoid robots designed and tested at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. R2 will work as an assistant to the human astronauts. This mission is important because it is the first dexterous humanoid robot to be sent to space. NASA will use this mission to explore the best ways to send R2 and other humanoid robots to destinations farther out (the Moon and Mars, and possibly beyond).

Courtesy of NASA

NASA said it has no plans on bringing R2 back to Earth. (Sort of makes me sad. Maybe I can send it Christmas cards.)

Visit the official site for Robonaut 2 for information, images, and videos. If you’re an educator, visit NASA Education for engaging instructional materials. If you’re a student and love science, visit NASA’s student site.

Oh, and R2 tweets! Follow R2 @AstroRobonaut. I do find it interesting that on Twitter and Facebook, R2 is posting with a human-like voice, and most fans are addressing it directly and giving it best wishes. Of course, we R2 fans know it isn’t human, but there is definitely a connection present between R2 and those of us who are observing the events. This isn’t so surprising considering research has shown that androids elicit social responses in humans. R2 may not have a human face, but on some level, we still envision a flesh-and-blood person inside that big bronze noggin casing.


Transformers: Dark of The Moon Daytona 500 TV Spot

Another trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon aired during the Daytona 500 broadcast.

The special effects look stunning, but I hope the script improves with this movie. Sure, the Transformers movies are based on kids’ toys, but I believe there’s a thought-provoking story somewhere in there waiting to get out. Right off the bat, I’d like to see more Optimus Prime angst.

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Get interesting tidbits on fictional robots; robotics in education and healthcare; fighting machines; robot books, toys, and trinkets; dancing androids; and all the other robots in-between.

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