It can gauge your mood, guess your age, and give you nightmares.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. This robot head treads dangerously in uncanny valley territory, and I’m expecting nightmares for weeks.
The Socibot-Mini, just shy of 2 feet tall, is a robot built by Will Jackson and his colleague at Engineered Arts, an interactive design company in the UK. The Socibot has a backlit, transparent plastic face, complete with nose, mouth, and eyes. It can create a face based on a headshot or use a generic one, and its eyes can follow you around the room. The robot uses a depth-sensing camera to identify gestures, similar to Microsoft’s Kinect or the PlayStation 4 camera. A webcam captures facial expressions, and its software allows for facial recognition and for slightly creepier functions, including determining your mood based on your facial expressions or guessing your age. Chatbot software, based on Loebner prize winner Rosette, allows the Socibot to hold simple conversations.
The robot can be used to add a face to colleagues on teleconference calls or to employees who telework. “It’s as spooky as all hell,” says Jackson. “We’ve tried it with a couple of our telecommuting colleagues in meetings and when it suddenly turns and joins in the conversation as our colleague Dan, and with his face, it is quite amazing. But you get used to it quickly.” An upcoming Kickstarter campaign will slim down the Socibot-Mini for home use. “It’ll become a butler who knows you inside out,” says Jackson.
The robot was on display at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Germany held in March. A similar robot, Furhat, was also on display. Samer Al Moubayed developed Furhat at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Furhat uses a 3D-printed face, based on an infrared scan of a person’s face. The 3D-printed face can be swapped out for the appropriate face before a teleconference. New Scientist reports that Skype has shown interest in the project, and is teaming up with Moubayed to bring animated delegates to the 2014 Interspeech conference.