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Albert Einstein: The Android

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, US, have created a basic android modelled after Dr Albert Einstein, in order to develop and test interaction routines designed to allow the android to interact with humans utilising natural facial expressions and speech recognition.

Three researchers are behind the robot:

Designer: Javier Movellan

Javier Movellan, a research scientist in the Calit2-based UCSD Machine Perception Laboratory is behind the interaction software, machine vision and personality design work.

"In the short-term, Einstein is being used to develop computer vision so we can see how computers perceive facial expressions and develop hardware to visually react. This robot is a scientific instrument that we hope will tell us something about human-robot interaction, but also human-to-human interaction.

"When a robot interacts in a way we feel is human, we can't help but react. Developing a robot like this one teaches us how sensitive we are to biological movement and facial expressions, and when we get it right, it's really astonishing."

Designer: Professor Yoav Freund

Professor Yoav Freund, of Jacobs School of Engineering computer science worked on much of the hardware, and the robot's ability to respond to audio social cues as well as visual ones.

Designer: David Hanson

David Hanson, formerly of Disney, the robot's primary designer and owner of Hanson Robotics, is the driving force behind its creation, and the use of robots as social tools.

"Einstein has pretty broad conversational abilities, although not like a human. In the demo mode, he might say something like, 'I'm an advanced perceptual robot bringing together many technologies into a whole that's greater than the sum of my parts, but here's what some of my parts can do. I can see your facial expressions and mimic them. I can see your age and gender. So why don't we demo some of these technologies?'"

"Some scientists believe strongly that very human-like robots are so inherently creepy that people can never get over it and interact with them normally, but these are some of the questions we're trying to address with the Einstein robot," explains Hanson. "Does software engage people more when you have a robot that's more aware of you? Are human-like robots inherently creepy, and if so is that a barrier, or is it not a barrier?

"We're trying to get past the novelty of the technology to a certain extent so that people can socially engage with the robots and get lost in that social engagement," he continues. "And in a sense, we naturally do that with other humans. If I have a big piece of spinach in my teeth or I have something cosmetically atypical about me, it might be difficult to get past those superficial barriers so that we can have a more meaningful conversation."

Research

The Einstein robot cost $75,000 us to put together, and is being used to advance the field in several tangible ways, not just overcome the uncanny valley perception.

Einstein's skin is a new material called Frubber, which Hanson's company has created after researching extensively into facial anatomy, physiology, materials science and soft-bodied mechanical engineering. It is even covered with microscopic pores, to push into the territory of being as real as possible.

Hanson is also bringing his expertise from Disney to bear, in careful design as to how to move with 'Disney magic', or in other words as realistically as possible.

Movellan's facial recognition software is pushing the boundaries, using a database of just over one million faces, and visual search algorithms coupled with a neural network to learn and understand new faces, facial expressions and speech patterns. Einstein is designed to learn, and adapt swiftly to a new person's face and gestures.

Movellan's work on Einstein also includes a character engine: A development suite designed to allow developers to craft and shape robot personalities from a standard toolset, adjusting parameters to create the desired personality.

Further Reading

UC San Diego Press Release, February 2009

Streaming Video, Courtesy of UC San Diego

It's All Relative: UCSD's Einstein Robot Has 'Emotional Intelligence' (Video)

Hanson Robotics

Staff Comments

 


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