A robotics team from the University of Pisa in Italy has a challenge for the Uncanny Valley theory (posted on Deskarati last year) 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.
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.