Researchers beware: if photos of your prototype robot are published too soon you may freak everyone out. The Machine Perception Lab at UC San Diego does some amazing work in the field of human-robot interaction trying to understand and mimic human expressions. Their latest robot, however, induces just one emotion - horror. Named Diego-San, the baby bot is 1.3 meters of metal with a spine shivering silicon face. Produced in cooperation with Kokoro, maker of Actroids, Diego-San is actually as impressive technologically as he is disturbing. The robot has 60 moving parts, 88 actuators, high resolution cameras for eyes, a speaker embedded in the mouth, and accelerometers in his ears to measure orientation and movement. In fact, if the face wasn't so jarring, the robot would probably be getting a lot of praise. Javier Movellan from MPLab has commented that the face is just a prototype and will be improved in the future. The real emphasis of the work isn't a cute bot, anyway. MPLab (and Kokoro) want to understand how babies interact with their physical and social worlds.
Which makes Diego-San very similar to iCub. Both projects may be able to tell us more about the fundamental ways in which humans learn during infancy. This understanding will in turn help produce learning machines that mimic our development - a necessary step, many think, on the way to developing artificial general intelligence. If the lessons we learn from robotics are particularly profound, they may help us become better parents to our one-year old children.
Hopefully we can look past the immediate lesson that these photos present which is "never let us see a baby robot in progress". MPLab is responsible for some really amazing robotics work, they helped Hanson Robotics make the Einstein replicant, and I can only imagine that one day Diego-San will enjoy a similarly warm reception. Until then, I wish Movellan and his team the best of luck with their robot...and with the angry mob of villagers carrying fire and pitchforks which are marching upon their castle right now.
[photo credit: Kokoro]