A team of scientists from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University has made a major breakthrough by developing a robot that can smile, smirk, raise eyebrows, and mimic human forehead wrinkles. This artificial intelligence robot called Eva can simulate human facial expressions to an unprecedented degree in the field of robotics. Although several humanoid robots have been developed in the past 20 years, the emotional intelligence of robots has been largely limited. The scientists involved in this study said that humanoid robots with facial expressions are expensive and cannot be used by most people, thus limiting the number of researchers in this field.
This is exactly what the research titled “Humanoid Robot Face with Rich Facial Expressions” published in Science Direct aims to change. Scientists say that this development can help potential artificial intelligence researchers by providing a relatively inexpensive open source robot that can be used as a platform for studying emotional communication between humans and machines.
According to the abstract of the paper, Eva is an adult-sized human head that uses 25 muscles to mimic facial expressions, head movements and language. The humanoid head has 12 facial muscles that can produce skin displacements of up to 15 mm.
Scientists say that although not as complex as those developed by organizations such as Hanson Robotics and Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, Eva can realistically mimic human facial expressions and head movements. They even shared a video of how Eva works.
First, Eva uses deep learning and analyzes human facial gestures captured by the camera. Then, its cables and motors swing by pulling on different points of the robot’s soft skin, allowing it to communicate with facial expressions. For example, although joy corresponds to a facial expression, the combination of joy and surprise results in happy surprise, which corresponds to a single facial expression. “Not all combinations of emotions produce comprehensible facial expressions, but it is usually possible to expand the list of repeatable facial expressions by combining certain emotions,” the paper reads.
What is the use of such a robot for researchers
Scientists say that robots like Eva can be manufactured and assembled relatively cheaply with accessible equipment. They said: “Other facial expression robots have proprietary designs, and the time and cost of building alternatives from scratch is far greater than the time and cost of building Eva’s current design.” The robot can also serve as a long-term platform for emotional artificial intelligence research. Some organizations can rent out humanoid robots, but it is difficult to hire them for long-term academic research.
“Eva’s modular, open-source design allows for customization and improvement of its hardware. If documented and shared, these improvements will also help other researchers in the field,” the paper said. Not only that, the robot can also use multiple languages (including Python) to program on the Raspberry Pi using open source technology.