A team of researchers from the Japan RIKEN Guardian Robot project has created an android child called Nikola who can successfully display 6 basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise & disgust.
Although the android child is definitely not at the level of Ex Machina, the project, led by Wataru Sato from the RIKEN, is significant because it is the first time that the quality of these 6 emotions expressed by androids has been examined & validated.
How it works?
The humanoid robot is equipped with 29 pneumatic actuators that control the movements of the artificial muscles of its face. It also uses 6 additional actuators to move the head & eyeballs, making it even more realistic.
Pin-pointing the positions of the actuators was probably the most important aspect of the design, and they were determined using the existing facial action coding system, which specifies which biological “facial action units,” or muscles, are used in the expression of specific emotions, as described in an article published in Frontiers in Psychology.
To make things more realistic, the researcher used actuators which are air-powered, allowing for smooth & quiet operation. This makes Nikola appear less like a robot and more like a real child; However, we would say that staring at the robot child takes us on a trip to the Uncanny Valley.
Nikola in Laboratory Studies The android child facial expressions were tested with volunteers trying to find out which emotions it was showing. Some emotions were easier to understand than others, such as its skin not wrinkling as easily as real human skin. This made the disgust harder to identify; However, scientists will deal with such shortcomings in the future.
“In the short term, androids like Nikola may be important research tools for social psychology or even social neuroscience,” said lead scientist Wataru Sato. Compared to human confederates, androids are good at controlling behavior & can facilitate rigorous empirical investigations of human social interactions.
At the time of this writing, Nikola is going through a Pinocchio-like existence as it does not yet have a body. In the future, technology could be integrated into complete care robots that can help people who live alone, As an expressive face, it could enable customers to relate to robots more easily.