Robots photo

The “uncanny valley” principle–the idea that when robots (or politicians) look human but not quite realistic enough, it makes real humans terribly uncomfortable–is a persistent problem for roboticists pursuing realistic humanoid robots. But research also shows that the uncanny valley effect can be somewhat mitigated by making the robotic more attractive and lifelike. To that end, Italian roboticists have created FACE, a realistic humanoid bust designed to closely mimic the many facial expressions our facial muscles are capable of.

FACE is powered by what’s known as the Hybrid Engine for Facial Expressions Synthesis, or HEFES, which commands the 32 motors placed under FACE’s polymer skin to manipulate it in the same ways human facial muscles do. HEFES creates not only facial expressions based on the Facial Action Coding System (which is a real thing that actually categorizes facial expressions based on real muscle movements), but also transitions between those expressions. So it allows a user to choose any facial expression, or any “emotional space” between two or more emotions.

This supposedly makes FACE more lifelike, and therefor more palatable to us humans. Personally, I’m still a little uncomfortable here, but you can judge for yourself via the video below.

New Scientist