We’ll probably decide to trust robots based on how friendly they look, but we’d do better to check whether or not they can crush us. Luckily for Meka’s humanoid robot, it passes both tests. In collaboration with UT Austin’s Human Centered Robotics Lab, Meka has designed a new face for their one armed humanoid bot. The cute new head, called Dreamer, was designed to have the wide eyes and soft curves of an anime school girl. Developers also gave it the eye-tracking and blinking systems it would need to appear more human. Eventually, Meka hopes Dreamer will prove to be an approachable social robot, one that you’d feel comfortable interacting with. To that end, Meka and HCRL have also worked to make sure that the humanoid’s arm responds well to outside forces. Can’t have that adorable anime face accidentally breaking your back with a friendly pat. Watch the Dreamer head and the compliant arm on display in the videos below. The color changing ears are a little disquieting, but I’d accept a hug from the robot anyway.
I’ve cued the video up to the first appearance of the Dreamer face. You can scan back to the beginning to see the head without the external shell.
Here’s footage of the compliant humanoid arm, sans Dreamer head:
Meka had an earlier head for their humanoid that was more male in appearance, and with a helmet instead of hair. The cosmetic differences are to my liking, as I think Dreamer would appeal more to a young child or other person looking for some robotic affection. As you’ll see in the video below, Meka and HCRL have also improved the technical aspects of the robot as well. The old head didn’t move nearly as smoothly or quickly as Dreamer does.
Dreamer isn’t the cutest robot we’ve seen, but it doesn’t really have to be – it’s a professional. Other social bots have focused on soft approachability instead of designing a humanoid that can actually perform work. Robots shaped like stuffed animals can grab you by the heart strings rather easily, but they aren’t very practical. Meka’s humanoid robot is a mechanical device, the Dreamer head is just there to make it less intimidating in the same way that its compliant motions make it less deadly. When the Meka robot is assembling cameras in a factory or cleaning dishes in your home the Dreamer head will keep children (and adults) from freaking out, letting it get its job done. I think that Meka and the HCRL have hit upon a pretty important concept that others have figured out before: if we want to integrate robots into human environments, they’re going to need human faces. Not because faces are required for them to work, but because faces are required for them to work with us. Cute goes a long way with humans. God help us if they ever start putting friendly smiles on warbots. Running to hug a machine gun on wheels is not good for your health.