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Humans can send rovers and machines on other planets to navigate or to establish bases before human occupation begins. These rovers and machines are non-humanoid and suited to their mission roles. Then why would humans build or send humanoid robots on an alien planet before occupation?

One reason could be to test how humans would navigate the rough terrain. But other than that, is there any reason for humanoid robots on another planet?

EDIT: Humanoid robots are not the only robots sent, to be clear.

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    $\begingroup$ If there are lifeforms on that planet, you might want to test their reactions to humanoids. If they attack on sight, you'll be happy you sent the robots first $\endgroup$
    – Nephanth
    Jul 7 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ We probably wouldn't. In any industrial system, form follows function. If any design work goes into the aesthetics of an instrument, it's a coat of a paint on a plastic shell. The human form is extremely versatile, but also extremely fragile. We use tools (which look nothing like us) to accomplish all our feats. That said, if you want humanoid robots, send humanoid robots. It's a common enough trope that you can hang a lampshade on it and people will let it slide. $\endgroup$ Jul 8 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Better question, why wouldn't they? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 8 at 18:25

10 Answers 10

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Crash Test Dummies

So you have various machines building a new base on a new world in preparation for occupation at a later date by their lords and masters - the meat bags. That includes not just the habitats themselves but the myriad of miscellaneous components humans will need when they arrive. Power sources, vehicles, tools and equipment, green houses... everything.

And all of those things should be tested to ensure they work exactly as expected. No faults during fabrication, no unanticipated design flaws or systems that don't work as well on the new world as was expected when they were trialed back home. Basically testing for any bugs and kinks.

So the last thing built after the base is completed are a small number of humanoid robots. They are then remotely activated and instructed to test drive vehicles, operate air locks and life support systems and generally push all the buttons and use all the systems that humans would during a normal day at the base. Especially the key systems that will keep them alive. And if nothing goes 'boom' fine, you have the base operating and all set up when you arrive, along with a small team of humanoid workers.

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They're our ambassador between first contact and meeting actual humans.

Space is big. Real big. There are billions of planets that aren't worth sending humans too, and due to that cost, humans aren't even dispatched until after a robot sends back its data feed showing value. It could be hundreds or thousands of years between the robot arriving and humans arriving.

Should the robot make first contact with an intelligent race, that robot would be responsible for establishing relationships, accepting or proposing treaties, negotiating trade, exchanging knowledge, and other things you'd expect of a diplomat in that situation. If there's a communication delay of 1000s of years the robot is on their own acting on our behalf.

The robot represents us as best it can in that time. To do that, it helps to look like us. We're not a society of rovers.

When two nations want to discuss a treaty, they usually do it in person, face to face, even if it means extra effort or inconvenience; eg 14 days of quarantine in a pandemic. We can't send a billion generation ships to get real humans on a billion one-way trips to a billion planets that may turn out to be worthless rocks, but by sending a billion robots that can function as an ambassador, we're set up to form relations if intelligent life is found, and can commit to future relations with those societies hundreds of years before flesh and blood humans arrive.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like your comment for highlighting the ambassador role. But why humanoid? Why not a box? $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 7 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ Because we're not a society of boxes, and our ambassadors should represent us. Also the same reason we don't mail cell phones to the UN for a meeting - because our society respects face-to-face discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 7 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks again. A part of me says there must be some evolutionary or survival benefit. The more I see the footage of rovers around, it seems boxes are the ones with that benefit. $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 7 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash All non-cuboid life must be wiped out to preserve geometric purity. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 9 at 3:18
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Because non-humanoid robots require special accommodations

The colony you are building already needs to be designed for humanoids. A standard human staircase has 7.5" stairs at a 37deg incline which is hard for wheels to go up. So rover bots would need extra ramps or elevators installed to gain access to upper stories. We often build shelving and cabinets up to a heights of 7.5ft to maximize usable wall space which is easier to reach when you have a vertical body plan. Our standard doorways are 36" wide which is hard for something with a large flat base to get through. Our standard operating control interfaces can include a very wide range of widgets include knobs, handles, levers, switches, keyboards, triggers, buttons, latches, dead-mans-switches, plugs, etc... While many of these can be manipulated without a proper hand, they were all designed around human hands; so, the optimal appendage in almost every case will be something like what humans have.

... but these are just the every day things you need to reach...

Reaching the AC unit in my attic to restart the piolet requires first pulling down on a string that is 6ft in the air, then climbing a 75deg set of stairs to go through a 2ft wide opening that leads straight into the the low point of the roof line so you have to twist your body around as you come up the stairs to not hit your head, then you have to climb either over or under a 2ft high cross beam, step around the ducts so as not to crush them. Then you need to walk on other crossbeams because part of the attic floor is unfinished or you will step through the ceiling below, then you have to crouch down and hold down a knob with one hand and press a button with another to start the piolet light... yes, this space could be redesigned to be way more convenient than this, but it would mean more time, energy, and materials. Since my attic was only designed for occasional human use, a lot of corners could be cut and assumptions made knowing that no one was going to be running thier roomba up there.

No matter what body plan we choose for a robot, there will always be places that a Human Colonist can go that the robot can not... unless you give the robot a human body plan. So, by using humanoid robots, it means that you can design everything in the colony to be equally accessible to both robots and humans such that things don't need to be redundantly designed to accommodate both.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of something similar after reading Mon's answer. Why limit robots to be crash test dummies - make them test everything. Make them cut trees, pass rivers, build homes. If humanoid robots manage well, so will we. $\endgroup$ Jul 9 at 14:10
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The use of humanoid robots is a policy that was established after the failure of the first human expedition to HES-5743.

Several flying and wheeled probes had been sent in advance and found the local fauna to be pretty tame, including a local predator (species HES-5743-057) resembling a cross between a tiger and a hyena, but which only hunted small reptiles.

However, an hour after the first humans landed, a pack of -057s attacked them, and turned out to be surprisingly fast and intelligent -- and resistant to small arms fire. All 21 humans were killed off within 15 minutes.

Later exploration of the planet found that there had been a humanoid species on this planet in the past, and the -057s' brains had somehow kept the humanoid form on the list of prey.

From then on, it was decided that humanoid robots would be on the pre-settlement checklist.

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They're Mass Produced

Custom is always more expensive than mass produced. If you are already churning out humanoid robots for use on Earth and other established colonies, they might be cheap enough to be the default choice for exploration.

If your humanoid robots so common as to be expendable, then it doesn't really matter if they are perfect for the job or not. Just send a bunch, and some will get stuck in rough terrain or break early, but overall the mission will be accomplished.

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  • $\begingroup$ As @CharlesBamford said above, we probably wouldn't send humanoid robots, but the "economics" from another civilization could be different... perhaps they've had advanced humanoid robots for years and have found that instead of e.g. developing a bespoke rover that steers itself, a remote lab that operates itself, and maintenance bots that know how to fix things, it's more cost-effective to have a wide variety of "dumb" tools and one or two "smart" robots that can use all of them as needed. Bonus: the aliens could use those tools, too (in this case, when they arrive in subsequent missions) $\endgroup$
    – A C
    Jul 8 at 20:47
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A conquering android army.

Or a colonizing one if you don't have something like nanomachines that just make everything and still construct a lot of things as you do back home where there is a lot of intervention of the human form.

Who is going to furnish and perform the interior designing of my living room before I set foot on the planet? A specialized non-humanolid form for those tasks might be a bit excessive for an environment made to suit humans and be modified by humans.

Have you seen a snow plow? Some look purpose-built but many (most even) are just a dump truck with a snow plow on the front. Why? Because we use trucks everywhere and are proven, just like how we use humanoid bodies everywhere and stick tools onto them.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the last line comparing trucks with humanoids and traditional use. Even if as a writer I cannot come up with a near foolproof reason, such explanations make it more logical. $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 8 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @mukul215 I'm glad you like it. It was a revelation I had when I was 14 and began driving and saw armies of dump truck plows everywhere and thought "what a crappy slipshod lazy design" whereas before I only saw graders in my neighbourhood which do look like purpose built plowing vehicles. I still think this. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 8 at 2:25
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They're the citizens who volunteered to oversee the other robots.

The humanoid robots have human-level intelligence and are legally considered citizens equal to any human. The other robots are animal-level intelligent and need oversight to make sure they stick to the plans when building the colony. Sure, you could send humans to do the job with a few thousand extra tonnes of supplies to keep them going for the few years it takes to get the colony built, but this particular one was under-funded and couldn't quite manage that within budget, so when looking for volunteers for the construction phase, they specified AIs only.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the supervisor / manager idea. Very helpful. But the question is more about the humanoid shape. Is there any reason AI managers have to be humanoid? Other robots, being machines, wont be biased towards taking / not taking orders from humanoid robots. $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 8 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ Could be something as simple as familiarity. They've lived most or all of their life in a humanoid body, which is good for interacting with humans (who'll be arriving in a couple of years), the animalistic robots don't care either way, and they're in no mood to move into something else. $\endgroup$
    – Rohan
    Jul 8 at 9:48
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Humans are used to avatars, because most planets are rough.

In this world, remotes are how the humans usually operate planetside - because circumstances on the surface are usually bad for human flesh. The atmosphere is caustic or poisonous, radiation is too high, gravity is wrong, monsters etc. All of these can be compensated for by appropriate remotes. Most colonies are all remotes, with the human (and AI) operators living in orbit. By the time they find a nice planet, humans have a lot of experience with remotes.

When the humans find a planet that is pretty nice and that they might visit in the flesh, it is something new. The humans start out the way they have done a hundred times before - with the remotes.

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    $\begingroup$ But humans can do that even by keeping their robots non humanoid. In fact, that non humanoid shape might suit other planets better. But then why stick to humanoid robots? $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 7 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @mukul215 Long term immersive control of a robot avatar optimally gives body specific feedback. The systems thru which people control their avatars provide this feedback, and it makes the most sense if the feedback is generated from a frame similar to that of the users own body., $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 7 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk, that simply doesn't make sense in light of the vast array of remote controlled drones in and out of the atmosphere here on Earth. We have no problems controlling flying drones due to the education it takes to run one. And running a drone will always require some training, even if it's a humanoid drone and people need to be reminded not to damage their drone body due to the cost of repair, even if it doesn't hurt the user. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @computercarguy - yes you are right. These things are very true. Now consider a world where there are humanoid bots planetside because that is what the OP wants. And I am trying to invent a reason, as one does.. Really, here in the real world I am aware humanoid robots are wildly impractical. I am not planning an actual mission to Mars. Just trying to help with this question.. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 7 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk, the OP asked if it made sense, not how to make it make sense. I'm all for invention, but inventing a reason when it doesn't make sense just isn't helpful, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 at 21:29
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Why did humans build humanoid robots at all?

Presumably, the humanoid robots had some role on Earth. They would prepare and fulfill the same role in the colony. Whatever jobs they had on Earth, they'd do in the colony.

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    $\begingroup$ Humanoid robots on earth were developed after a lot of the world was already created. They were suited to that. On another planet, however, life is starting from scratch. So different physical structures might or might not be better. Hence, is there a particular advantage in being human-oid? $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 7 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ Robots on a "raw" planet would likely be better suited as something other than humanoid, such as a bulldozer or other construction equipment. These really only 2 reasons a humanoid robot would be warranted: because of existing controls a human would normally use, which wouldn't be present; or because it's interacting with another humanoid that is more comfortable with another humanoid than some random shape. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @computercarguy , if my question made it seem like that, I am sorry for the wording. So let me clarify - humanoids won't be the only robots sent. So there will always be bulldozers and cranes and drones or rovers or whatever machines r required while initial construction and exploration. But in addition, a few humanoids. Why I asked the original question was that the logical side of me cannot digest sending the humanoids. With advanced tech, humanoids won't be required in addition to those machines while trying to understand the planet. $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 8 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ @mukul215, absolutely, since there's no psychological reason for humanoid robots and no reason for the robots to interact with tools built for humanoids, you don't need the humanoid robots. I'm sorry my comment sounded argumentative. I wrote a comment on Willk Answer similar to what you just said. $\endgroup$ Jul 8 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @computercarguy , what about test dummies? Unless I sent non humanoids with detailed human settings for different scenarios, they won't be bsnl to test the infra and planet. Can that be a suspension-of-disbelief inducing scenario? $\endgroup$
    – mukul215
    Jul 8 at 18:02
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If this is some sort of precolonization situation where they're trying to get a better understanding of the planet then beyond moving around the environment perhaps the humanoid robots also have systems to imitate human organ functions to see how the environment may interact with the colonists down the line.

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