Robotic Einstein learns to put on a happy face


He smiles, looks sad, shows surprise, and he learned how to make these facial expressions all by himself (sort of).

A new baby on the block? No, its a robotic head, crafted to look like Albert Einstein. And researchers have programmed it to train itself to figure out how to arch an eyebrow, wrinkle a nose, and furrow a brow, all in the name of mimicking human facial expressions.

The work is being done by researchers at the University of California at San Diego's Machine Perception Lab.

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Robotics researchers generally have long taken inspiration from Kismet, a mechanical head at MIT that is programmed to generate facial expressions, then give the correct one in response to a human "care-giver."

The goals of such work are twofold: to devise ways of making humans more comfortable as interactions with machines become more common; and to develop mechanical analogs that humans scientists can use to test ideas about how babies expand their capacity to respond to their new world.

Kismet, who resides at MIT's artificial intelligence lab, has been the mechanical pioneer in this field. Scientists and engineers there have developed a head only a hardware store-owner could love. But they've devised ways of programming Kismet to react to someone the way a baby might.

Kismet's sound and vision devices allow it to detect sight and sound cues from a human, then change its facial expression -- the direction of its eyes, tilt of its ears, the position of its mouth, for instance --  in ways a human would recognize and that constitute a realistic response to the human's initial smile, compliment, laugh, or scold.

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