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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Talking Robot Heads

Researcher Takaaki Kura Tate and his team at the CoTeSys Central Robotics Laboratory in Munich, Germany have developed a life-size talking head robotic system, ``Mask-bot'', as a platform to support and accelerate human-robot communication research. The ``Mask-bot'' output hardware consists of  a semi-transparent plain mask, a portable LED projector mounted behind the mask, a fish-eye conversion lens attached to the projector, and a pan-tilt unit and a mounting base. The system projects calibrated 3D face animation onto the mask and it becomes a life-size talking head in real space as opposed to 2D flat screen space or stereo pseudo-3D screen space. OpenHRI were used to add speech recognition and synthesis capability to the system.

Takaaki Kura Tate developed an animation engine for Talking Heads that match different phonemes with a specific facial expression. Software for synthetic emotions helps to show happy, angry or sad faces. A text-to-speech program can translate written text in English, Japanese and German-to-speech. The user can choose male or female voice, weak or strong voice, happy or sad, each with key presses. It will simply be a two-dimensional image of the person occuring in the Machine-bot. The image is projected through a fish-eye objectiv only 12 cm from the mask. The light is so strong that his face lit up in a daylight-lit rooms. In an upcoming project, Mask-bot 2, the projector and computer fit inside a human-like robot. This might be the next step closer to a robot that can function as a social human-like avatar companion for social interaction.

Robotic Avatars 
Japanese roboticist professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from Osaka University, well known for his human like Geminoids, surprised in 2010 with a minimalistic telepresence robot, sized as a small child, with soft torso, a bald head, a doll-like face, and stumps in place of limbs. The idea behind this strange robotic creature called  Telenoid was to create a teleoperated robot that can be female or male, an adult or a youngster, that can be easily transferred, making it suitable for a wide-range of users.

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