Science

A humanoid robot with surprisingly natural facial expressions.

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Engineered Arts recently released a video of one of their robots in action: Ameca. The sequence provokes a lot of reactions in terms of the very “natural” facial expressions of the machine.

In this famous video, the robot, first “asleep”, begins by untangling the right shoulder joint. He wakes up with a start, with an expression of deep amazement on his face. He frowns, then looks around with a mixture of concern and disbelief. Then he looks at his hands, which he observes with great curiosity, tinged, perhaps, with a hint of concern … Then he seems to see something, out of sight of the camera, that surprises him. He does not jump, mouth open and arms extended. Finally, like a self-satisfied magician, he looks at the viewer of the video and gives him the wide smile of whoever had you good.

This robot is called Ameca. Created by Engineered Arts, the company describes it as a “platform” for the development of future robotic technologies. The company’s credo is simple on the subject: “An artificial intelligence that looks like a human requires an artificial body that looks like a human.” The main objective of the machine is, therefore, to make it possible to work on human-machine interactions by pushing expressions towards the greatest possible realism.

Ameca is crossing the valley of strangers?

From this point of view, it seems quite successful. The reactions of Internet users, numerous, underline in the vast majority an astonishment at the naturalness of the expressions displayed on the face of this new humanoid robot: “It was really well sequenced. It sounds quite natural, probably the most human expression I have seen on a robot to date. I also found the hands quite impressive. Gone is the stereotype of the inexpressive robot ”, we can read in the comments. “To me it’s so real that it honestly doesn’t make me feel those weird valley vibes of weirdness,” we still see. To which another viewer responds: “Idem. Honestly, that’s what scares me the most! XD “.

The Valley of Strange … If this expression is unfamiliar to you, it certainly is to anyone who is directly or indirectly interested in humanoid robots. It is taken from the English “Uncanney Valley”. Theorized by the Japanese roboticist Mori Masahiro, this name is not new since he was born in the 1970s. The idea is this: the more an android robot looks like a human being, the more imperfections, small inconsistencies remind us of our brain which is not, it seems monstrous to us.

In general, humans will therefore be less disturbed by clearly artificial-looking robots, which do not attempt to imitate human life. Why “valley” in this case? Because, according to this theory, it is an area that is reached starting from a certain degree of unfinished realism … But that is possible to cross. Mori Masahiro thus posited that when robots became even more like humans, they would emerge from this “valley of strangers” and be better accepted. Furthermore, after this stage of rejection, they would arouse greater acceptance due to their resemblance to us humans.

However, despite the success of her facial expressions, Ameca is still a long way from human in many ways. The video is a succession of reactions intelligently sequenced, but not linked to his interactions with the outside world. A colossal work on artificial intelligences remains to be done if the fantasy of creating “human-like robots” is to be fulfilled. At this point, the engineering arts are still pretty elusive: “Is Ameca an AI? A great question. Ameca contains software that can be described as ‘artificially intelligent’, but the problem is broader than that. Ameca’s main objective is to be an AI development platform. We love designing and building robots, we will allow you and all the other amazing (naturally intelligent) brains to create AI and machine learning algorithms and see how far we can advance the technology together. ”

Walking is also a point that still represents a problem for many humanoid robots. Ameca is no exception to this. However, the company insists on the modularity of the robot, which allows it a good margin of evolution: “Can Ameca work? Not yet. There are many obstacles to overcome before he can. Walking is a difficult task for a robot, and although we have investigated this, our team did not create a complete walking humanoid. However, Ameca is modular, so we plan to improve its capabilities over time so that it can one day function, “reads its website.

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