Like many people whose childhood imaginations were fired by animated movies, Hong Kong product and graphic designer Ricky Ma grew up watching cartoons featuring the adventures of robots and dreamed of building his own one day.
Unlike most, however, Ma has realized his childhood dream at the age of 42, by successfully constructing a life-sized robot from scratch on the balcony of his home.
The fruit of his labors of about 18 months, and a budget of more than $50,000, is a female robot prototype he calls the Mark 1, and she's modeled after a Hollywood star whose name he wants to keep under wraps. It responds to a set of programmed verbal commands spoken into a microphone.
Ma's journey of creation was a lonely one, however. He said he did not know of anyone else in the former British colony who builds humanoid robots as a hobby and few in the city understood his ambition.
"When I was a child, I liked robots. Why? Because I liked watching animation. All children loved it. There were Transformers, cartoons about robots fighting each other, and games about robots. After I grew up, I wanted to make one. But during this process, a lot of people would say things like, 'Are you stupid? This takes a lot of money. Do you even know how to do it? It's really hard'," he said.
Besides simple movements of its arms and legs, turning its head and bowing, Ma's robot, which has dark blonde hair and liquid eyes, and wears a grey skirt and cropped top, can form detailed facial expressions.
In response to the compliment "Mark 1, you are so beautiful", it bows, the "muscles" around its eyes relax, and the corners of its lips lift, creating a natural-seeming smile, and it says, "Hehe, thank you."
A 3D-printed skeleton lies beneath Mark 1's silicone skin, covering its mechanical and electronic interior. About 70 percent of its body was created using 3D printing technology.
In creating the complex robot, Ma followed a trial-and-error method in which he encountered obstacles ranging from frequently burned-out electric motors to the robot losing its balance and toppling over.
"When I started building it, I realized it would involve dynamics, electromechanics and programming. I have never studied programming, so how was I supposed to code? Additionally, I needed to build 3D models for all the parts inside the robot. Also, I had to make sure the robot's external skin and its internal parts could fit together. When you look at everything together, it was really difficult," said Ma.
But with Mark 1 standing behind him, Ma said he has no regrets.
"I figured I should just do it when the timing is right and realize my dream. If I realize my dream, I will have no regrets in life," he said.
Ma, who believes the importance of robots will grow, hopes an investor will buy his prototype, giving him the capital to build more. He wants to write a book about his experience to help other enthusiasts.
The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor-market changes that leaders at the recent World Economic Forum warned will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years.