Robotic Einstein Head Has Empathy, Creepy Smile
It's slightly disturbing to look at a robotic reincarnation of one of the world's greatest scientists, but it's the technology behind the rubberized face that's of interest here. At last week's Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, Albert Einstein reemerged as part of a awe-inspiring demonstration which proved that robots could finally perceive human facial movements and mimic them autonomously.
The "empathetic robot," as it was called, was able to key in on emotional nuances displayed by the person gazing at it and then make the same face back. The head being showcased at TED was the fourth iteration by roboticist David Hanson, who told the hundreds in attendance that it can "understand feeling and mimic." The revived Einstein found his personality just two weeks earlier when it was "married to software from the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California, San Diego."
As for the magic behind the smile, there are 32 motors that control facial quirks, and the underlying software can track 13 parameters -- "everything from the blink of an eye to the raise of an eyebrow or the wrinkle of a nose" -- when connected to a pair of cameras that are mounted in the eye sockets. The overriding goal? According to Nicholas Butko, a graduate student at UC San Diego who accompanied Hanson to TED: "To make computers that have basic perceptual capabilities -- things that your brain does effortlessly that you never even think about." You seem to be well on your way to accomplishing just that, Mr. Butko.