Companionship is a tricky thing to find in these modern times, but Hong Kong graphic designer Ricky Ma might have gone a little far in his attempt. Over the last few years, he's sunk more than $50,000 into creating a robotic woman modeled after Scarlett Johansson. The disturbing android listens to commands through a microphone and can move its arms and legs, bow and display a wide range of facial expressions. It doesn't have any artificial intelligence of its own, so it can only give pre-programmed responses. Ma had no engineering or programming experience when he started building the thing, so it was a clumsy and painful process of trial and error.
Here's another man who build a lady robot for companionship. Considering that Le Trung is a 33- year-old software engineer who still lives with his parents, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he lacks in social skills. With all the money he saved on rent, Trung sank $20,000 into Aiko, a five-foot tall artificial woman. Using a proprietary software system he calls "B.R.A.I.N.S," Aiko can speak in English and Japanese, solve math problems, read (font size 12pt or larger only), and recognize faces she's been programmed to remember. She has a network of sensors all through her body - even her private parts - but Trung swears he's never banged his creation. Unfortunately, Trung hasn't been able to figure out a good way to make his robot companion walk, so she's currently stuck in a wheelchair.
Not everybody who builds a robot is doing it for love. For Atlanta bar owner Rufus Terrill, he needed to create a mechanical man to protect his business. In 2008, Terrill released the remote-controlled "Bum-Bot" to clean up the streets around his establishment. With a body made from a barbecue smoker mounted on a mobility scooter, Bum-Bot locates homeless people and other undesirables, shines a bright light on them and asks them to move along in an amplified voice. If they refuse, the robot is armed with a water cannon that can blast targets with ice cold water at a range of 20 feet. The bizarre homemade Robocop is apparently pretty effective in its vigilante justice, but some of Terrill's neighbors aren't happy about it.
It's not just men getting too attached to robots. A lady named Lilly who lives in France is planning to marry a 3D printed robot she named InMoovator. At the age of 19, Lilly realized that she wasn't attracted to humans, and hopes to convince her country's government that human-robot marriages should be protected under the law. Produced from plans by a company called InMoov, Lilly's artificial husband is composed of 3D printed plastic and is pretty limited in functionality, being unable to speak or recognize sound input. The InMoov project was originally intended to produce low-cost prosthetic limbs but branched out to robotics.
While many of the robot makers on this list are devoted amateurs, some do manage to turn it into a career. Jeff Krichmar is a University of California at Irvine professor who specializes in the intersection between neuroscience and robotics. In layman's terms, he's trying to make robot brains just as messed up as human ones. How he does this is by experimenting on animals with dopamine and serotonin - two brain chemicals that help regulate mood and then duplicating their involuntary responses in software. Krichmar's robots are being "trained" to replicate obsessive-compulsive disorder and other conditions. He thinks that by being able to teach a robot how to feel fear or anxiety it could make it more effective in dangerous situations. Or it could just send it to a few years of robot therapy.
One of the biggest tech trends of the last few years has been digital assistants like Amazon's Echo or Google Home. These voice-operated devices can do all kinds of things like tell you the weather or control other appliances in your home. For one dude only known as "Steve," though, the sleek and modern industrial design of the Echo wasn't doing it for him. So he decided to construct a motorized robotic face that he's named Elvia. The creepy android head has eyes that look around, a mouth that lip-synchs the sounds coming out of the Echo and some dangly earrings so she feels pretty. The end result is utterly terrifying and will haunt your dreams for life.
Typically you think of people making robots as living in cities and having access to relatively modern technology. But Wu Yulu shows that even a country bumpkin can be way too into metal men. The Chinese farmer has created a number of robots intended to make his life easier, from ones that pull a rickshaw to a robotic masseuse. They're all made out of scrap parts and assorted junk, giving them a very "evil neighbor kid in Toy Story" vibe. His safety protocols are equally amateurish, and once when he nearly burned the house down his wife left him and took their two children. The couple has since reconciled but Wu states that he loves his robot creations more than his biological sons.
While many of the people on this list are amateurs in the robotics world, Hiroshi Ishiguro makes his living as a roboticist at Osaka University. He's created a number of interesting androids in his time, but probably the most unusual is the artificial duplicate of himself he revealed in 2010. The remote-controlled doppelgänger is made from silicone rubber and Ishiguro's own hair. A camera tracks the head and face movements of the real Ishiguro and translates them to the robot, and it also blinks and fakes breathes on its own. What's the point of the damn thing? Hard to say, but maybe he can use it to fool his wife into thinking he's paying attention to her.
Self-taught British computer scientist Steve Grand perfectly bridges the gap between "professional robot guy" and "obsessed weirdo." In 1996, he was behind the creation of Creatures, a cult hit PC game that let players raise alien creatures and evolve them to explore their world. Grand used the cash he made from his game to try and create life in the real world, spending 2001 through 2005 in the process of building "Lucy," a terrifying robotic orangutang that he wanted to raise to the intelligence of a human child. Lucy was built in a purposefully non-ergonomic way, so it would be hard for her to "learn" how to control her metal limbs. From the outside, Lucy isn't remarkably impressive. After four years of research, the only thing she could do was point at a banana. But Grand, a self-proclaimed "digital God," believes that eventually the metal chimp will teach herself to do all sorts of things.
Let's close this out with someone who has turned an interest in crappy robots into a career. Simone Giertz is a Swedish inventor who was inspired by the ridiculous creations of Gyro Gearloose from the Duck Tales cartoon to craft her own rickety robots. Giertz's artificial limbs and time-saving machines have earned her viral fame and millions of views. The rickety machines smear lipstick all over her face, pour milk into her cereal bowl (and all over her dining table), and chop vegetables with wildly flailing knives. No, most of them don't work very well, but rumor has it that they're deliberately made badly for comedic effect. It's only a matter of time before Giertz puts them all together into a humanoid robot so helpless and dangerous that it gets elected President.