A new robot developed by a Disney research team is an impressive feat of robotics,media The Verge reported. Gizmodo reports that the new robot can mimic human facial movements, especially winking and subtle head movements.
Sensors in its chest area alert the robot when to turn face-to-face before its eye movements change from direct eye contact to fast eye movements known as sacs. It also moves slightly up and down, mimicking breathing.
The robot was developed by engineers from Walt Disney Fantasy Engineering, Disney’s research division, and robotics researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the California Institute of Technology.
Although most humanoid robots generally focus on a person’s face and stay there, it does not interact with each other. The Disney team explained in its paper, “Real and Interactive Robotic Gaze.”
Gaze has proven to be a key social signal that shapes perceptions of interactive partners. For example, people who make more eye contact with us are perceived to be similar to us and to be smarter, more serious, more sincere, and more trustworthy. In addition, the eye seems to convey complex social and emotional states.
Given the importance of gaze in social interaction and its ability to communicate state and shape perception, it is clear that gaze can be an important tool for interactive robot roles. Therefore, the purpose of this work is to develop a system to simulate human-like mutual gaze.
It’s not hard to imagine how Disney might use the technology, for example, for animated characters at its theme parks. The company’s research department has been working to create more realistic robots; in 2018, it launched the Stickman robot, which can be flipped in mid-air “to get close to the height of a human stuntman with its arms raised above its head.”