Now, robot prototype that looks, talks like real person

November 8th, 2011 - 5:23 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 8 (IANS) German and Japanese scientists have developed a new robot prototype Mask-bot which looks like a real talking person.

It can easily reproduce simple dialogue. When project member Takaaki Kuratate says ‘rainbow’, Mask-bot flutters its eyelids and responds with an elaborate sentence: “When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow.”

And when it talks, Mask-bot also moves its head a little and raises its eyebrows to create a knowledgeable impression.

The prototype has been developed by the Institute for Cognitive Systems (ICS) at Technical University München, Germany, in collaboration with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan, where Kuratate works, according to an ICS statement.

“Mask-bot will influence the way in which we humans communicate with robots in the future,” predicts Gordon Cheng, professor and head of the ICS team.

The researchers developed several innovations in the course of creating Mask-bot.

Although other groups have also developed three-dimensional heads, these display a more cartoon-like style. Mask-bot, however, can display realistic 3D heads on a transparent plastic mask, and can change the face on-demand.

A projector positioned behind the mask accurately beams a human face onto the back of the mask, creating very realistic features that can be seen from various angles, including the side.

Many comparable systems project faces onto the front of a mask - following the same concept as cinema projection. “Walt Disney was a pioneer in this field back in the 1960s,” explains Kuratate.

“He made the installations in his Haunted Mansion by projecting the faces of grimacing actors onto busts.” Whereas Walt Disney projected images from the front, the makers of Mask-bot use on-board rear projection to ensure a seamless face-to-face interaction.

Mask-bot is also bright enough to function in daylight, thanks to a particularly strong and small projector and a coating of luminous paint sprayed on the inside of the plastic mask.

“You don’t have to keep Mask-bot behind closed curtains,” laughs Kuratate.

This part of the new system could soon be deployed in video conferences.

“Usually, participants are shown on screen. With Mask-bot, however, you can create a realistic replica of a person that actually sits and speaks with you at the conference table,” says Kuratate.

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