Mask-Bot: A Robot With a Human Face
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Date posted: 02/12/2011
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Embodiment

Robotics researchers in Munich have joined forces with Japanese scientists to develop an ingenious technical solution that gives robots a human face. By using a projector to beam the 3D image of a face onto the back of a plastic mask, and a computer to control voice and facial expressions, the researchers have succeeded in creating Mask-bot, a startlingly human-like plastic head. Yet even before this technology is used to give robots of the future a human face, it may well soon be used to create avatars for participants in video conferences.

The project is part of research being carried out at CoTeSys, Munich's robotics Cluster of Excellence.

Mask-bot can already reproduce simple dialog. When Dr. Takaaki Kuratate says "rainbow," for example, Mask-bot flutters its eyelids and responds with an astoundingly elaborate sentence on the subject: "When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow." And when it talks, Mask-bot also moves its head a little and raises its eyebrows to create a knowledgeable impression.

What at first looks deceptively like a real talking person is actually the prototype of a new robot face that a team at the Institute for Cognitive Systems (ICS) at TU M√ľnchen has developed in collaboration with a group in Japan. "Mask-bot will influence the way in which we humans communicate with robots in the future," predicts Prof. Gordon Cheng, head of the ICS team. The researchers developed several innovations in the course of creating Mask-bot.

The projection of any number of realistic 3D faces is one of these. Although other groups have also developed three-dimensional heads, these display a more cartoon-like style. Mask-bot, however, can display realistic three-dimensional heads on a transparent plastic mask, and can change the face on-demand. A projector positioned behind the mask accurately beams a human face onto the back of the mask, creating very realistic features that can be seen from various angles, including the side.

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