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Facial Scare? Robots Get Human Faces

Enlarge Image credit: Uli Benz / Technical University of Munich MORE IMAGES

Most people now have computers and phones that can talk to them. From straightforward, voice-activated commands to the strangely poetic responses of the iPhone 4S's Siri, computers and humans are getting closer. But what if your computer had a face? What would she–he–it look like?

Researchers at Munich Technical University in Germany might have an answer. They've developed Mask-bot—a robot with a three-dimensional human face. The face is projected onto the mask from behind, and the researchers have developed a computer program that can replicate facial expressions based on what's going on around it.

The result is a robotic face that can speak three languages and carry on a conversation with two emotions: happy and sad. The mask could be put on any robot, and the projection system can work even in a brightly lit room. The face can even be customized based on a photograph of a person—like you.

Putting faces on robots runs the risk of encountering the "uncanny valley," whereby users feel a sense of unease with the humanoid appearance. Nevertheless, the developers hope that the Mask-bot will replace conventional video conferencing, where colleagues are seen on a monitor, or even comfort (or terrify) elderly people who might be lonely.

—Rose Eveleth

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