FACE team seeks to melt 'Uncanny' ice for robot bonds (w/ Video)

Jul 11, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) -- A robotics team from the University of Pisa in Italy has a challenge for the Uncanny Valley theory made famous by the 1970 essay of that name. Masahiro Mori had said when robots get too realistic they turn people off with a feeling of eerie distaste. The team from Pisa are intent on showing that robots with human expressions can be, well, liked. They would like to generate a new chapter of human like robots that do not churn up a sense of unease. They are focused on research that can demonstrate how manipulated expressions on robots can be made more attractive so that the human can cross over Mori’s dips of feelings of unease and creepiness.

Nicole Lazzeri, a PhD student at the university, and her colleagues have designed a "Hybrid Engine for Facial Expressions Synthesis" (HEFES) - a facial animation engine that gives realistic expressions to a humanoid robot called FACE.

They define HEFES as an engine for generating and controlling facial expressions “both on physical androids and 3D avatars.” HEFES is part of a software library that controls the human-like robot, FACE (Facial Automaton for Conveying Emotions).

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HEFES is essentially a mathematical program being used to control FACE's expressions. The algorithm works out which motors need to be moved to create any particular expression or transition between two or more expressions.

As the FACE team notes, “The human face is equipped with a complex physical structure and it has more than 100 muscles situated between skin surface and skull with very different shapes and functionality. They allow us to control even minimal muscular movements and to generate a myriad of different facial expressions.”

The robot’s servo motors actuate the “face” in a different way, however. In contrast to human muscles, the robot servos are only capable of producing linear contractions. Human orbicular muscles, like the Orbicularis oculi and the Orbicularis oris, produce circular contractions. “The movement of this kind of muscles is reproduced using more than one servo motor in the most realistic way as possible.”

In order to go forth to convincingly mimic the range of human expressions, of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise that facial muscles support, the team placed 32 motors around FACE's skull and upper torso to manipulate its polymer skin to mimic the way that real muscles do. They also worked to have FACE smoothly transition between one emotion and another.

Their motor movements are based on the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) created over 30 years ago. This is a system that codes facial expressions in terms of muscle movements. Paul Ekman developed FACS, naming the muscle movements as facial action units (AUs). A single AU includes more than one muscle.

The FACE team is an interdisciplinary team of the Interdepartmental Research Center at the university. The team’s overall work focuses on what they call Emotional Human Robot Interaction using human-like robots to embody emotional states. Their system has been tested in - interaction studies aimed to help children with autism to interpret their interlocutors’ mood through an understanding of .

Their work was presented last month at the IEEE International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics (BioRob) in Rome.

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More information:
Research paper: www.faceteam.it/wp-content/upl… 2012/06/BIOROB12.pdf
Project: www.faceteam.it/

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User comments : 16

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MrGrynch
3.1 / 5 (7) Jul 11, 2012
definitely still creepy. Whatever happened to the electroreactive polymers (synthetic muscle) that were touted as a replacement for servos and gears for robotics?
that_guy
4 / 5 (4) Jul 11, 2012
I'm positive that this would work, as long as the robot was at least 40 feet away.

Also, robot engineers shouldn't bother building human like robots, because they fail horribly, where experience shows that the ways to succeed are clear.

Animatronic engineers should build humanoid robots. Sometimes an animatronic 'puppet' is nearly impossible to distinguish from a real person/animal, and they're mostly remote controlled these days, so they already have the electronics/servos...
nuge
4.8 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2012
I don't understand the point of building a perfect humanoid robot. Isn't the point of robots to be able to do things that people can't do, not to weakly imitate the things that they can do?
MrGrynch
2.7 / 5 (7) Jul 11, 2012
@nuge
The argument I've heard many times is that robots need to be anthropomorphized for acceptance as companions for the elderly who can no longer function independently. In this case the robots aren't doing things humans can't do, but rather things that older humans can no longer do. You can build non-humanoid robots for certain tasks, but none have the same range of utility as an actual human. After all we live in a world built around humans. It only makes sense. Still, that really only makes the case for humanoid robots, not robots that are indistinguishable from humans. We dont have to love them, they just need to be useful. Besides, n my opinion, a more human-like personality and speech capability makes a bigger difference with regard to human acceptance of robots.
tatiana_covington_7
3 / 5 (2) Jul 11, 2012
None of this would bother me a bit! I'm a Science-Fiction writer!
StarGazer2011
1.5 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2012
we shouldnt get to the point where it difficult to distinguish between a human and a robot; thats just dangerous (replace the president with a banker programmed robot anyone? killing machine that looks like your kids?).
They should be made to look like muppets, specifically Grover; who doesnt love Grover? Elderly people can be arried around by Cookie Monster, I would be ok with that!
Riff
5 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2012
Well that's not too bad at all. Just need to speed the facial gestures up and design one that doesn't look like a transvestite.
Deesky
5 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2012
Still, that really only makes the case for humanoid robots, not robots that are indistinguishable from humans [...] Besides, n my opinion, a more human-like personality and speech capability makes a bigger difference with regard to human acceptance of robots.

Yes, I agree and this goes to the whole uncanny valley issue. The closer the robot mimics a real person, the higher the expectations from the people it's meant to interact with, and so even minor inaccuracies serve to focus criticism and give air to a sense of creepiness.

Robots don't need to be exact human replicas to be useful or liked. I mean, look at R2D2 who looked like a trashcan on wheels and couldn't even speak human languages, and yet he was widely liked and thought of as cute.

I think a roughly humanoid robot is all that is needed - it doesn't need hair or skin or expressions, just a non-threatening looking, neutral or cute 'face' and our inbuilt desire to anthropomorphize will do the rest.
Expiorer
2 / 5 (4) Jul 12, 2012
Its funny because now when the AI will surpass us it will be able to lough at us. (not like the emotionless terminator T-1000)
lbuz
2 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2012
The humanoid approach represents, IMHO, Humanity's profound desire to have a more intelligent 'companion species' and is of a piece with our search for or fantasies of extra-terrestrial life; we badly want someone to talk to. This is really a profoundly separate undertaking from the track taken in what to me is the most promising area of robotics and that is modular self-reconfiguring lattice based systems. The issue really comes down to a question of 'what is a robot'? I believe that a distinction should be clearly made between the two types of entities. While both a humanoid and a deeply modular system have some functional similarities; they ambulate and interact (ideally) in an autonomous and robust fasion with the world. But a system whose primary design criteria is to more of less faithfully replicate the gross appearance of a highly complex system such as a human being may be possible but must necesarily be very expensive and complex itself.........
lbuz
2 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2012
.....It seems far more sensible and practical to draw our design from the other end of the evolutionary ladder. It will be far easier to build systems composed of many relatively simple and more or less identical parts, cells as it were, than to replicate a human. It is also notable that humans too are composed of cells. I would contrast the two approaches as designing from the outside in versus the inside out, or top down versus bottom up. My money is on the latter; tiny thinking Tinker toys and walking talking Legos that repair and rebuild themselves to suit the situation.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jul 12, 2012
we shouldnt get to the point where it difficult to distinguish between a human and a robot; thats just dangerous (replace the president with a banker programmed robot anyone? killing machine that looks like your kids?).
They should be made to look like muppets, specifically Grover; who doesnt love Grover? Elderly people can be arried around by Cookie Monster, I would be ok with that!


I think it would be awesome to be able to order a favorite cartoon character as a "pet". Imagine being able to have ALF walking around, quipping jokes and chasing the cat. That would be the most awesome use of a robot! Seriously, or any character you liked as a child. Then you could also program them to be useful and help around the house. But I guess once you've got humanoid down, it's a trivial matter to change the size and add fur.
rsklyar
1 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2012
Another robotics gang from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Joint Research Centre, universities of Ferrara and Genova, also University of Florida and Georgia Institute of Technology with a leading bandit at Northwestern University has successfully plagiarized a method of human-robot interaction : http://issuu.com/...saivaldi
Newbeak
not rated yet Jul 15, 2012
Commander Data this ain't! Getting androids to do useful work in an unstructured environment is still a challenge.The closest we've come is Honda's Asimo,IHMO..
packrat
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2012
I would love to have a household robot that helped out but I don't want a robot that looks like a human. I would much prefer it looked like a robot. That one in the movie looks like it has a major constipation problem to begin with for something that's supposed to look human and is really creepy looking to me.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2012
I would love to have a household robot that helped out but I don't want a robot that looks like a human. I would much prefer it looked like a robot. That one in the movie looks like it has a major constipation problem to begin with for something that's supposed to look human and is really creepy looking to me.

Today's robots can't do the things a 5 year old child does effortlessly-there has to be major paradigm shift to create robots that could be useful in homes.I think the guy who designed the Palm Pilot is on the right track: http://www.onintelligence.org/