A humanoid robotic head known as Han, that can recognize and respond to human facial expressions, make eye contact, and engage people in basic conversation, was the cynosure at the Global Sources Electronics Fair at the AsiaWorld Expo, which took place in Hong Kong this week.
The Global Sources Electronics Fair is the largest electronics show in the world, where the latest innovations in electronics are showcased by innovators in various fields of design and engineering.
The state-of-the-art robotic head has a disconcertingly human-like appearance, including eyebrows, cheeks, and lips that register human-like movements, translating into an impressive array of human-like facials expressions.
Designed by U.S. robotic expert David Hanson, it runs on a special pattern recognition software and hardware that allows the robot to identify and react to an array of human facial expressions. It also has a language processor which allows it to respond to simple questions and even engage people in witty conversation.
Han’s face has micro-pores that measure between four and 40 nanometers. The face is able to smile using multiple motors, which enact subtle movements to adjust points of articulation of the face and generate human-like expressions, such as a smile or a frown.
According to Hanson Robotics’ founder, president and chief designer, David Hanson, Han represents a major breakthrough in the development of human-like android robots. Hanson said that in the future, robots like Han will find productive application in health care, education, and entertainment.
Already, pioneers like Jong Lee, CEO of Hanson Robotics, envision the use of androids in hospitals to work with autistic children as nursing assistants. Robots can be programmed to perform repetitive actions, such as helping young autistics practice how to make eye contact and improve their social skills.
“Autistic kids often have to learn through brute memorization. The robot can be trained to respond to reactions, repeating things over and over.
When you have robots helping nurses, they [the nurses] are 30 per cent more productive.”
Hanson reportedly relocated his entire family to Hong Kong to fulfill his dream of pioneering the design and production of a new generation of human-like robots “with realistic facial expressions and conversational abilities.”
Hong Kong has an advanced robotics industry, a thriving community of technical experts and supporting infrastructure in various related fields of robotic engineering. Research, development, and production of robots can be done at a lower cost in Hong Kong than in the U.S.
The robotics designer, who has worked with Walt Disney, designing animatronic robots, has also worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. He is currently managing Hanson Robotics in collaboration with a Korean-American partner Jong Lee, CEO of Hanson Robotics.
While the company has a long-term goal of developing humanlike androids, it is also working in the short term in the field of animatronics for theme parks.
Han is only the latest in a line of human-like robots that Hanson Robotics has created.
Hanson’s first robot was exhibited at the 2002 AAAI conference in Edmonton, Canada. In 2003, he demonstrated his Kbot at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting.
In 2005, he created an “intelligent conversation portrait” of sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick, who died in 1982 (see video below). The robotic “talking head” has a data bank of the writings of the author and is able to talk about the author’s work.
In 2009, the company exhibited an “expressive walking humanoid” version of the U.S. physicist Albert Einstein (see video below) at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference. The robot, capable of human-like facial expressions, was designed at the University of California in collaboration with the KAIST Hubo group of Korea.
He is currently working on a robotic portrait of Russian Dmitry Itskov, who hopes to achieve “digital immortality” by transplanting his consciousness to a robotic copy of himself.
Ultimately, Hanson Robotics is looking to incorporate advanced artificial general intelligence (AGI) designs into their androids.
“Artificial minds are the most ambitious undertaking in history. It’s the science and engineering of minds. You need governments, companies and researchers participating. No one [organization] can make it — you need to have thousands co-operating, and open source methods can help.”
[Featured Image: YouTube/GlobalSourcesDotCom]