Disney Research Reveals New Robot With Human Facial Movements

New Robot With Human Facial Movements
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This thing might creep you, but it’s another milestone in the animatronics industry. We’re talking about the new robot of Disney. It looks creepy and looking at it, you’ll feel that it’s ready to jump out of the page and bite you.

The robot is a creation of Walt Disney Imagineering, a division of Disney’s Research. Their development partners are the robotics researchers from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Human-like features

The robot does not have skin, but it wears a white polo shirt! For sure Disney will give it skin and hair and other treatments later. However, the engineers of Disney are focusing on their new impressive achievement. The robot can blink like a human and can gaze at another person as humans do. Aside from blinking, the robot can move its head subtly. It shows small secondary behaviors, which humans also show when they engage in conversation, like the flickering of the pupils, faint tilting of the head, blinking, and even shifting its gaze to another person.

While the robot looks formidable and ready to jump at you, it’s the camera sensor in its chest, which is hidden under a shirt that gives it life. The sensor alerts the robot when to turn its head and faces the person who is in front of it. It can exhibit eye movements, shifting from direct eye contact to rapid eye movements (saccades). Its torso also moves slightly up and down as if it is breathing.

So, what makes this robot different from other robots that Disney created?

This new robot mimics how a human interacts with another. In the past, humanoid robots focus their eyes on the face of a human and that’s it. The Disney team explains the development of a system for lifelike gaze in human-robot interactions in their paper, Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze.

humanoid robots
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The secret of the gaze

According to the Disney engineers’ study, the gaze is a prime social signal. It shapes the perceptions of the partners in the interaction. They cite people perceive who make eye contact with them as similar to them. The perception is that they are more sincere, trustworthy, conscientious, and intelligent. Further, a gaze appears to convey complex emotional and social states.

The researchers conclude the gaze can function as a vital tool for an interactive robot. They aim to produce a system that will mimic the mutual gaze of humans.

Uncanny realism

What the animatronics engineers created is uncanny. It’s almost realistic. Because no human maintains eye contact consistently, the new robot of Disney does it as well. Disney calls it the ‘’illusion of life,’’ which combines show, animation, and robot gaze, which they will use later for the company’s distinct characters.

The gaze of the new robot shows different behavioral states. It can read, glance, engage, and acknowledge, respectively.

The robot’s default state is read. The eye movements look like the robot is reading a book. In the engaged state, the robot shows the expression of looking at a person of interest, using head and eye movements.

The robot goes through the different states according to the curiosity score of the stimuli. You can view how the robot gazes at someone right here.

Disney animatronics engineers have another milestone. They are almost at the end stage of their Project Kiwi, which is developing robots that can walk and interact with guests at their theme parks. They showed what they achieved so far, by dressing it up as a young Groot.