Robots Closely Mimic Human Expressions—Is This a Little Creepy?

Han the humanoid robot greeted visitors at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Han the humanoid robot greeted visitors at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair. (Screenshot/YouTube)

I think humanoid robots that can mimic human expressions and look similar to humans is just a little creepy. A Hong Kong-based company called Hanson Robotics has developed a few robots that meet this creepy scale.

The latest one is called Han, and he made his debut in public earlier this year in January, during the Digital-Life-Design fair in Germany. During April this year, Han the humanoid robot was greeting visitors at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair.

The robot’s head showed that it could also hold simple interactive conversations with the crowd.

Han the humanoid robot can recognize and interact with people:

With the touch of a button using a mobile phone app, Han can smile, wince, frown, wink, or even act drunk. There are about 40 motors that control his face. These help to form delicate facial expressions, the product manager at Hanson Robotics, Grace Copplestone, said. The robot also responds to his environment thanks to several cameras inside his eyes and chest.

Young Diego-san robot:

“So Han’s really exciting because not only can he generate very realistic facial expressions, but he can also interact with the environment around him. So he has cameras on his eyes and on his chest, which allow him to recognize people’s faces, not only that, but recognize their gender, their age, whether they are happy or sad, and that makes him very exciting for places like hotels for example, where you need to appreciate the customers in front of you and react accordingly,” Copplestone said.

Albert Einstein, the robot:

During the Global Sources electronics show, one visitor, businessman Harbhajan Singh Sethi from Mumbai, joked with the robot and said: “I think you are perfect man for my wife.”  Han answered with. “I don’t have to do whatever you say; I have my own free will.”

Sethi said: “It was fun and it was interesting. He’s answering you. He’s answering you to the point.”

Xiao Yong, who owns a technology company in the Shenzhen City, China said: “I think it’s very magical, because the robot’s facial expressions are very rich. When I greeted him, he responded.

When I asked him to smile, he smiled. He can flirt and wink. It’s magical. It’s very well made.”

The elastic polymer that gives Han’s his human-like skin is a material called “Frubber,” short for “Flesh Rubber”. The human-like robot heads could serve a range of functions, Copplestone said, especially where face-to-face communications is important.

Robot portrait of Philip K. Dick:

“There are three markets we are really excited about. One is hospitality, so for example, the receptionist behind desk and hotels. The second one is entertainment, so casinos, theme parks and museums. And the third is health care, and that’s in two ways. One is medical simulation. If you can provide doctors with mannequins that have very realistic facial expressions on them, that provides a very beneficial piece of training to the doctor, and the mannequin can travel over the world to do that. Another area of medical care is for the elderly. We believe a human face on a robot makes it far more approachable, and efficient, and effective in caring for older people.”

The future of robotics: David Hanson at TED:

The company is aiming to commercialize Han’s technology on a different face, a Eurasian female called Eva, and has plans to produce hundreds of Evas this year.

The age of robots may be here, but I still think they’re creepy whenever I see them. This is getting uncannily close to the “hubots” of the Swedish TV series Real Humans.

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