A week or so ago, we posted about a 2008 study suggesting that humanish robots are a bad, bad idea. However, it’s definitely true that human facial features are great at communicating emotional information to humans, so there’s certainly something to be said for incorporating things like eyes and eyebrows into a robot. Flobi, a robot from Bielefeld University, is a good example of a conscious decision to make a humanoid robot head that is capable of recognizable human expressions while avoiding the Uncanny Valley.
Flobi relies on expressive elements that are almost cartoonish in their simplicity: 18 actuators move the eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, and mouth, and there are LEDs in Flobi’s cheeks to let it blush… I say ‘it’ because Flobi’s hair (all of the facial elements, in fact) can be easily changed to let it appear to be male or female. For me, though,that process brings back quite a bit of the uncanny:
I find it pretty amazing how much of a difference subtle little things like blinking can make when it comes to how I (personally) relate to humanoid robots. And that’s part of the tricky thing about the Uncanny Valley: there’s a very fine line between seeming human, and seeming too human.
As IEEE Spectrum points out, Flobi looks a lot like iCat. Like, a lot. This makes iCat angry:
And you don’t want to make iCat angry…