Expressive face helps robot bridge ‘uncanny valley’

A good-looking robot is seriously hard to find. Robots can be pretty, some even handsome, but as soon as they get too realistic they start to creep us out. A new system for helping robots to generate more realistic expressions might go some way to help.

Many years ago, robotcists realized that as you morph an abstract robot into a human you generate a peak of unease – the “uncanny valley principle” – that makes people feel uncomfortable when a robot looks realistic but not realistic enough. Some say it’s because they remind us of a corpse. However, researchhas shown that if you manipulate the robotic images so that they are more attractive, you can bypass this feeling of unease.

To create a robot we are more likely to accept, life-like expressions are vital. That’s why Nicole Lazzeri at the University of Pisa, Italy, and her colleagues have designed a “Hybrid Engine for Facial Expressions Synthesis” (HEFES) – a facial animation engine that gives realistic expressions to a humanoid robot called FACE.

FACE’s appearance is modelled on one of the team’s wives. “It’s really realistic,” says Lazzeri, who presented the work at BioRob in Rome last month. See for yourself in the video above.

To mimic the myriad expressions that facial muscles are capable of achieving, the team placed 32 motors around FACE’s skull and upper torso that manipulate its polymer skin in the same way that real muscles do.

To create expressions they used a combination of motor movements based on the Facial Action Coding System(FACS) – a system created over 30 years ago which codes facial expressions in terms of anatomic muscle movements.

HEFES is used to control FACE’s expressions. It is essentially a mathematical programme that creates an “emotional space” which a person can use to choose an expression for FACE that exists anywhere between one or more basic emotions, including anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. The algorithm then works out which motors need to be moved to create that expression or transition between two or more.

The team evaluated the accuracy of their expressions by asking five autistic and 15 non-autistic children to identify a set of expressions performed first by FACE and then by a psychologist. Both groups were able to identify happiness, anger and sadness but less able identify fear, disgust and surprise.

So is it more attractive? I’m not convinced. But FACE’s ability to smoothly transition between one emotion and another is pretty remarkable. And not too creepy.


Blowfish12@2012 blowfish12.tk Author: Sudharsun. P. R.

Attempt To Convert Prof Hawking’s Brainwaves Into Speech

An American scientist is to unveil details of work on the brain patterns of Prof Stephen Hawking which he says could help safeguard the physicist’s ability to communicate.

Prof Philip Low said he eventually hoped to allow Prof Hawking to “write” words with his brain as an alternative to his current speech system which interprets cheek muscle movements. Prof Low said the innovation would avert the risk of locked-in syndrome. Intel is working on an alternative.

Prof Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963. In the 1980s he was able to use slight thumb movements to move a computer cursor to write sentences. His condition later worsened and he had to switch to a system which detects movements in his right cheek through an infrared sensor attached to his glasses which measures changes in light.

Because the nerves in his face continue to deteriorate his rate of speech has slowed to about one word a minute prompting him to look for an alternative. The fear is that Prof Hawking could ultimately lose the ability to communicate by body movement, leaving his brain effectively “locked in” his body.

In 2011, he allowed Prof Low to scan his brain using the iBrain device developed by the Silicon Valley-based start-up Neurovigil.

Prof Hawking will not attend the consciousness conference in his home town of Cambridge where Prof Low intends to discuss his findings, but a spokesman told the BBC: “Professor Hawking is always interested in supporting research into new technologies to help him communicate.”

Decoding brainwaves

The iBrain is a headset that records brain waves through EEG (electroencephalograph) readings – electrical activity recorded from the user’s scalp. Prof Low said he had designed computer software which could analyze the data and detect high frequency signals that had previously been thought lost because of the skull.”

An analogy would be that as you walk away from a concert hall where there’s music from a range of instruments,” he told the BBC.”As you go further away you will stop hearing high frequency elements like the violin and viola, but still hear the trombone and the cello. Well, the further you are away from the brain the more you lose the high frequency patterns.

The iBrain device collects EEG data which it transfers to a computer

“What we have done is found them and teased them back using the algorithm so they can be used.” Prof Low said that when Prof Hawking had thought about moving his limbs this had produced a signal which could be detected once his algorithm had been applied to the EEG data.

He said this could act as an “on-off switch” and produce speech if a bridge was built to a similar system already used by the cheek detection system. Prof Low said further work needed to be done to see if his equipment could distinguish different types of thoughts – such as imagining moving a left hand and a right leg.

If it turns out that this is the case he said Prof Hawking could use different combinations to create different types of virtual gestures, speeding up the rate he could select words at. To establish whether this is the case, Prof Low plans trials with other patients in the US.

Intel’s effort

The US chipmaker Intel announced, in January, that it had also started work to create a new communication system for Prof Hawking after he had asked the firm’s co-founder, Gordon Moore, if it could help him.

It is attempting to develop new 3D facial gesture recognition software to speed up the rate at which Prof Hawking can write. “These gestures will control a new user interface that takes advantage of the multi-gesture vocabulary and advances in word prediction technologies,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.

“We are working closely with Professor Hawking to understand his needs and design the system accordingly.”

Intel began working with Prof Hawking after he wrote a letter to its co-founder Gordon Moore in 2011


Blowfish12@2012 blowfish12.tk Author: Sudharsun. P. R.

AI systems could fight cyberbullying

Smart software could detect online bullying via a database system that can identify even the subtlest of abusive comments

“I have been bullied my entire life. About how I look like a whale and how im not pretty enough. I cant get boyfriends because i refuse to have sex until I am married. I just dont know what to do anymore…:\” – Samantha, 16

Pleas for help like this one appear on social media and internet forums every day, written by desperate teenagers who live their entire lives online. Knowing you’re not alone can help. That’s the idea behind new software that matches up such messages with similar posts from other worried teenagers, letting them know that what they’re experiencing isn’t unusual. It might also be possible to spot bullying behaviour as it happens online.

Recent high-profile cases have made cyberbullying front page news. In January, 15-year-old Amanda Diane Cummings died after jumping in front of a bus on Staten Island, New York. She’d been subjected to a campaign of bullying on Facebook by other pupils at her school. Last September, Jamey Rodemeyer, a 15-year-old boy from Buffalo, New York, killed himself after being teased online about his sexuality. The cases sparked lawmakers to push through legislation, passed by the state senate last week, that makes cyberbullying a crime.

To help tackle one part of the problem, Karthik Dinakar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues have been working on a project that analyses the posts written by teenagers on A Thin Line, a website run by MTV. The site encourages teenagers to post their problems anonymously and other teenagers leave comments giving advice. Many of the posts concern bullying and worries about sex.

Artificial brain with billion connections

Google has done the unthinkable — the creation of an ‘artificial brain’ from 16,000 computer processors, with more than a billion connections.

The team led by Google’s Jeff Dean then fed it random images culled from 10 million YouTube videos — and let it ‘learn’ by itself.

Surprisingly, the machine focused in on cats. “We never told it during the training ‘this is a cat’,” said Dean. “It basically invented the concept of a cat.”

The revelation

“Contrary to what appears to be a widely-held intuition, our experimental results reveal that it is possible to train a face detector without having to label images as containing a face or not,” says the team.

“We also find that the same network is sensitive to other high-level concepts such as cat faces and human bodies.”

“Starting with these learned features, we trained our network to obtain 15.8 per cent accuracy in recognizing 20,000 object categories from Image Net, a leap of 70 per cent relative improvement over the previous state-of-the-art,” it said,Daily Mail reports.

The ‘brain’ was a creation of the company’s ‘blue sky ideas’ lab, Google X, reportedly located in Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters — known as ‘the Googolplex.’

Engineers are free to work on projects such as connected fridges that order groceries when they run low — or even tableware that can connect to social networks.

Other Google engineers have reportedly researched ideas as far-out as elevators to space.


Blowfish12@2012 blowfish12.tk Author: Sudharsun. P. R.