Researchers Create an Android Child That Transmits Six Emotions

Researchers from the RIKEN Guardian Robot Project in Japan have created an android child capable of transmitting six basic emotions. The android’s name is Nikola, and the research behind its development tested how well people could identify the six facial expressions of sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.

The research has been published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Artificial muscles and emotions

Emotions were generated by “muscles” that could move on Nikola’s face, and this was the first time the quality of emotion expressed by androids was tested and verified for specific emotions.

Nikola’s face contains 29 pneumatic actuators that control the movements of artificial muscles. Six additional actuators control head and eyeball movements. Because pneumatic actuators are controlled by air pressure, movements are smooth and quiet.

The actuators were based on the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which is often used to study facial expressions. Traditional studies of emotions, and how people react to them, often come up against several limitations. One of the greatest difficulties in conducting a controlled experiment with living people interacting. An experience that involves individuals looking at photos or videos of people is less natural and does not elicit the same reactions.

The new study was led by Wataru Sato of the RIKEN Guardian Robot Project.

“The hope is that with androids like Nikola, we can have our cake and eat it too,” Sato says. “We can control every aspect of Nikola’s behavior, and at the same time study live interactions.”

Identify Nikola’s facial expressions

To achieve this, the team first had to see if Nikola’s facial expressions were understandable.

The result showed that someone certified in FACS notation was able to identify each unit of facial action, which meant that Nikola’s facial movements looked exactly like those of a real human. It also demonstrated that ordinary people could recognize the six emotions on Nikola’s face. That said, some emotions like disgust proved more difficult to identify because Nikola’s silicone skin is less elastic than real human skin. This meant that the android couldn’t form wrinkles very well.

“In the short term, androids like Nikola can be important research tools for social psychology or even social neuroscience,” Sato says. “Compared to human confederates, androids are good at controlling behaviors and can facilitate rigorous empirical investigation of human social interactions.”

Although Nikola still doesn’t have a body, the team wants to create a complete android that can help people.

“Androids capable of emotionally communicating with us will be useful in a wide range of real-life situations, such as elderly care, and can promote human well-being,” Sato says.

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