Columbia Engineering researchers use AI to teach robots to make appropriate reactive human facial expressions, an ability that could build trust between humans and their robotic co-workers and care-givers.
BY MARK ALLINSON
While our facial expressions play a huge role in building trust, most robots still sport the blank and static visage of a professional poker player.
With the increasing use of robots in locations where robots and humans need to work closely together, from nursing homes to warehouses and factories, the need for a more responsive, facially realistic robot is growing more urgent.
Long interested in the interactions between robots and humans, researchers in the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia Engineering have been working for five years to create EVA, a new autonomous robot with a soft and expressive face that responds to match the expressions of nearby humans.
The research will be presented at the ICRA conference on May 30, 2021, and the robot blueprints are open-sourced on Hardware-X (April 2021).
“The idea for EVA took shape a few years ago, when my students and I began to notice that the robots in our lab were staring back at us through plastic, googly eyes,” said Hod Lipson, James and Sally Scapa Professor of Innovation (Mechanical Engineering) and director of the Creative Machines Lab.
Lipson observed a similar trend in the grocery store, where he encountered restocking robots wearing name badges, and in one case, decked out in a cozy, hand-knit cap.
“People seemed to be humanizing their robotic colleagues by giving them eyes, an identity, or a name,” he said. “This made us wonder, if eyes and clothing work, why not make a robot that has a super-expressive and responsive human face?”
While this sounds simple, creating a convincing robotic face has been a formidable challenge for roboticists.
Continue reading… “The robot smiles back: Columbia scientists teach robot how to respond to human facial expressions”