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Singularity University

Actroid F Female Telepresence Robot Looks Super Real, Creepy

actroid-f

Actroid F can speak in your place, using webcams to watch and mimic your facial expressions and movements.

When you speak with your family over a webcam they may be able to see your face, but they don’t have a real body in the room with which they can interact. Why not give them a creepy robot to to talk to instead? Kokoro recently unveiled its Actroid F telepresence robot, a full sized female humanoid with complex facial movements and realistic appearance. Though it can’t move from its chair, it can blink, shift its eyes and neck, bow, and even breathe. A webcam on your end watches your face and head movements and has the robot mimic them for your family. It’s one of the most complex and human-like telerobots ever seen…and it really freaks me out. This thing is sort of the epitome of the Uncanny Valley, it’s just real looking enough to trigger your “something’s wrong with this person” alarm. Watch the Actroid F speak, nod, and smile in the videos below. Maybe I watched one too many Child’s Play movies, but I would not leave this thing alone with my family.

Actroid F is a modified version of the Geminoid F female robot that we discussed earlier. A lot of effort has gone into making these robots simpler, cheaper, and easier to power. The air compressor and valves that control Actroid F’s motion can run off of household electricity. Actroid F is also 30 kg lighter than other full scale robots in the Actroid/Geminoid series. The webcam setup for telepresence is meant to be as simple as possible while still providing the right experience for the user. To talk through Actroid F you need three cameras: one aimed at the speaker to pick up facial expressions and movements, another camera showing the Actroid’s face so the user can see how the robot is conveying her emotions, and a final camera that shows a panoramic view of the robot interacting with people in the room. A little more complex than your standard Skype portal, but that’s to be expected when you are speaking through a robotic avatar. Pay attention in the videos below to see how Actroid F can clearly pick out face and head movements, and adjusts its eyes to follow sound. This is a very life-like robot…which, again, is probably why it can be so eerie to watch.

This video was taken during the recent open lab at AIST on October 14th and 15th.

This preview for Actroid F came out a few months ago, and you can tell they’ve made some fine adjustments since then. The video does, however, give you a better feel for the camera setup and use of the robot as a telepresence vehicle.

Japan has a sort of developmental alliance/network that has repeatedly pushed the envelope when it comes to life-like humanoid robots. You’ll almost always see Kokoro attached to these projects, along with AIST, ATR, and Osaka University. These four names keep cropping up in various pairings and collaborations as we’ve seen with the Geminoid F, the dancing HRP-4C, and the Telenoid. Japan looks to be trying to dominate the field of replicant robotics, and I think a lot of that can be traced back to Hiroshi Ishiguro. Ishiguro is one of the foremost names in realistic robotics in Japan (and the world) and is the mind behind the Geminoid and Telenoid (and probably a dozen other projects of which I’m not aware). What I find so interesting is that the research/industrial system in Japan is clearly willing to funnel a lot of money, time, and effort into projects whose products are…well…creepy.

actroid-f-kokoro

Actroid F is based on the frame and skin of Geminoid F seen here. The small improvements are clear, especially around the mouth.

Of course, they’re creepy in a progressively realistic way, and that may be the key. It’s going to take years, and many iterations of new robots, before we can develop a bot that actually looks really human. But Ishiguro (and Kokoro, AIST, ATR, Osaka University, and many other groups in Japan) aren’t going to give up until they do. These guys are dedicated, have no doubt.

actroid-f-telerobot

From a certain angle, Actroid F really does look human. A bit too formal, maybe, a bit too stiff...but much closer to the real thing than you would see even a few years ago.

In light of that dedication, I’m willing to sit down and watch videos of bots that raise my hackles and have my hands itching for the pitchforks and torches. Yes, Actroid F is situated firmly in the Uncanny Valley, but the telepresence innovations it is exploring (face mimicry, emotive simulations, etc) are going to be very useful in the future. Give it some time and replicant robots will be able to act and talk with our voices in a way that we find endearing instead of alarming. Give them a few more years beyond that, and we will be able to make replicants that can be customized to look like each of us, so they can help us tele-communicate with people we love as if we were in the room with them. We’re in the muddy part of the journey right now, but the path ahead is going to be worth the effort.

[Special alternative ending for robots only: ...Give it even a few more years beyond that and the replicants will be so human-like that they can murder the originals, take their place, and their families would never know. Doesn't that sound perfect?]

[image credits: Robo Times, Osaka University via Kokoro]

[sources: Robo Times, Kokoro]

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27 comments

  • @AeaeaActual says:

    The technology has progressed quite quickly in the last few years, after a long decade or two of slow growth. The best 2D mimicry programs were in the ultra-creepy realm 10 years ago, and now the best of motion- and face-capture technologies are very realistic. 3D will follow that quickly – it won’t be decades!

    Great article. Thanks.

    @AeaeaActual

  • Anonymous says:

    I don’t mind the way it looks – but the way it moves is still firmly in the uncanny valley for me. Instead of the smooth motions you’d expect from a human being, it moves in little shocks and spasms to get where it needs to go. This might be because they’re recording the motions of the human at the other end and the frame rate is limited – or perhaps the commands to speed up or slow down the servos are sent at a relatively low rate. Either way, I think it would look a -lot- better if they used simple cubic spline or hermite interpolation to smooth out the motion.

  • Liz says:

    Just in time for Halloween!

  • Hiroseiji says:

    By 2020-5, we won’t be able to tell the different between human and robot appearance.

  • jgehrke says:

    If we really are on an accelerating curve of technological development as computers and robots help design themselves, then some of us may actually get to see robots that are tough to distinguish from humans. I read ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’ (ala Blade Runner) and had a lot of sympathy for such robots, but I do not fear them at all. I look forward to such a future.

  • Orr_shomroni says:

    Still unfortunate that they cannot move their lips properly.
    Also, maybe to make them more real, they should have pupils too. I mean, I know it sounds kind of cliche, but when I look into the robot’s eyes it just looks soulless.

  • Joey1058 says:

    I sat here in shock with a “you got to be kidding me” look on my face. in the top video, I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that it was a human imitating a robot trying not to be jittery. It wasn’t until the bot did it’s bow in almost fluid motion that I actually reached that suspension of disbelief that it was human! I was almost ready to razz you that they had pulled the wool over your eyes. Two years, I’d guess, before the syncing is so seamless that they go from tackling Asian facial features to European facial features.

  • Matt Herndon says:

    I find the concept of telepresence a bit off. Texting and online chatting take the “human” out of conversation enough as it is, and now we are being augmented by a machine? No thanks.

  • Pablo Pérez Benítez says:

    Forget about teleprescence robotics as an appealing product, people will be much into the virtual side of things to care about this kind of gimmicks, but this kind of endeavors makes room for future bionics like… some day you had an accident and literally loose your head, thanksfully that same morning you have made a back up of your mind so it’s just a matter of implanting a customized bionic head into your fleshware body and download your mind into it.

  • David says:

    It’s not that creepy. So it move a little funny. So what? It’s one of those things that if you saw it all the time you’d quickly grow used to it. The uncanny valley idea is really over-hyped.

    No need to make frightened chimpanzee noises and hurl poop.

  • Tal Tamir says:

    and this is supposed to be somehow more practical then a video chat? would it even be cheaper than a 3d holographic projector?

  • JW says:

    This puts that weirdo gender/race/everything neutral creepy ass casper tele-presence bot to shame. I wonder what strange effects this might have on a long-distance relationship if you were being represented to your significant other for a long time as the opposite sex.

  • Sue Long says:

    yeah she has a pretty face but no brains…..I agree with Blade Runner theme, also Duplicity, Stepford Wives, I Robot, etc come to mind… WHY in Gods’ green earth would anyone want this? What practical purpose can this possibly have; just to replace humans? There are not enough jobs for the humans now, why would we want something like this to replace us? This thing can do nothing on its own that its creator has not programmed into it; it can only mimic. I agree with the comment of a soulless look to it; IT has no soul. We are each created by God, to have a purpose on this earth, to help each other, to be able to think and reason which is why we are not related to monkeys-this thing is only an empty shell. It is part of a subculture that is trying to brainwash people into believing they are worthless, useless, have no meaning or purpose and therefore are expendable. God is our creator and He did not make us robots so that we mimic what has been programmed into us; we can think and make choices. We can reject or accept, He gives us this free will to choose. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him which gives us great value and worth; not some mindless robot that takes that away. We cannot be replaced in Gods’ eyes; we are too important to Him, every one of us, from the moment of conception to the day we die.

    • Hydroxide says:

      Technology can help raise our standard of living if implemented right. It’s self-righteous religious zealots like you who are destroying our world. Unemployment is only an issue because you women breed far more than necessary, which contributes to the overpopulation crisis we have now, but you’re way too wrapped up in your sex lives to understand this. Please, just stick to your fairytales and leave the robots and us technophiles alone.

    • Dboy says:

      Cook? There’s no bar fine, no sick buffalo stories, and no need to worry about short time vs long time. Having to make your own Panang Gai is a small price to pay.

  • Jessica says:

    My ? is what are they planning on doing with these once they have been completly human like. It will really be sooner than you think before you wont be able to tell the difference. What are the intentions of these machines? I dont think people should move into that part of tecnology yet. I still think as a group we need to raise our levels of awarness for our planet before we enter this realm and possibly destroy ourselfs. We have a lot more inside work to do on our own souls first. I am not anti-tecnology I just think you shouldn’t give a toddler matches.

  • DoUntoOthersAs says:

    The author closes by saying:
    [Special alternative ending for robots only: ...Give it even a few more years beyond that and the replicants will be so human-like that they can murder the originals, take their place, and their families would never know. Doesn't that sound perfect?]

    Is the author condoning murder — sounds perfect to him?! How about re-thinking that one?

  • Tom Reinhoudt says:

    These is some astounding technologies!

  • curlytopz666 says:

    i fear that those things that happen in matrix and animetrix will come true. where robots will have a revolution and rebel against humans. ><

  • Fred says:

    I must say, I expect abit better than references to ‘uncanny valley’ from singularity hub. Its not even that creepy, anyway; atleast not for me. No more than those automated vacuums. I think the shockingly good face does more than half the job though, I find the smile and the cast of the eyes particuarly convincing

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