New robot face smiles and sneers
15:20 17 February 03
NewScientist.com news service
K-bot's face is modelled on
one of her creator's friends
A new robot that, according to its creators, can express a full repertoire of human facial expressions was unveiled on Sunday.
K-bot has a feminine face and is capable of 28 facial movements, including smiling, sneering, furrowing her brow and arching her eyebrows. She also has cameras in her eyes to recognise and respond to humans.
David Hanson, of the University of Texas, Dallas, sculpted K-Bot's face using an electroactive polymer with 24 artificial muscles to provide facial movement. Her predecessor - Andy the android - had just four facial movements.
"This is the face for human robotics," Hanson told the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Denver. Previously, Hanson has designed robots for Disney theme parks.
K-bot's face is made of a polymer developed by Hanson. It is a combination of an elastomer and a foaming agent, he says, which gives the appearance and flexibility of skin without requiring the complexity of human tissue.
The entire robot, which consists of the face, muscles and motors, weighs two kilogrammes. It cost $400 to make but Hanson says the cost would be even cheaper if the robot was mass produced.
He suggests K-bot could be a useful tool for scientists researching artificial intelligence: "The goal is to test adaptive intelligence systems which can recognise people and then respond."
However, Cynthia Breazeal, at MIT's media laboratory, warns that the interactivity displayed by robots in films like AI and even C3PO in Stars Wars is a long way off.
Breazeal, who has researched how socially responsive robots interact with humans, says: "Science fiction is very difficult for us," because it gives people very high expectations.
"This isn't just an engineering problem," she says, it is a very human problem - we must also understand the social and psychological aspects of the interaction.
Shaoni Bhattacharya, Denver