Humanoid robots are set to become a common sight in coming decades, but how can we improve the way we interact with our future robotic companions? Developing robots that - unlike the expressionless mask worn by the famous ASIMO - can convey "emotion" holds one of the answers this question. That's why Polish researchers from the Wroclaw University of Technology have developed EMYS (EMotive headY System) - a turtle-like robotic head that attempts to mimic human emotions using an array of basic facial expressions.

EMYS is able to move its head, eyes and eyelids to display a range of emotions including happiness, sadness and surprise. It is comprised of three cylindrical disks to form its head, two ball shaped eyes and a neck. The top and bottom disks are movable while the middle disk is fixed to the supporting structure. Located on the middle disk are EMYS eyeballs which are endowed with eyelids and are able to rotate and eject. The movement of these components in unison or on their own is how EMYS attempts to convey emotion. The movements can be at high or low intensities to communicate emotional nuances - for example, to display different levels of "happy". Its skeleton is made of aluminum, its body made from strong and heat resistant plastic and there are also plans to mount EMYS on a self-balancing platform on two wheels called FLASH.

EMYS is controlled by PC with signals sent to its various internal servos and motors from its vision and sound acquisition systems. The main sensory input is its vision system. Inside the middle disc lies a Logitech Quickcam Sphere, stripped of its body and pan and tilt mechanism. The system can perform human face detection to compute the number and position of visible faces and EMYS is also able to determine if the person is new or has been seen before as well as react and respond to sound stimuli.

An emotion identification experiment conducted on a test group of adults, EMYS was asked to display the emotions of happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, weariness and disgust along with a "neutral" emotion. Children and students clearly identified most of EMYS face configurations with surprise, disgust, neutral, weariness, anger and happiness being the most easily identifiable.

EMYS is designed and constructed as a part of the Living With Robotic and Interactive Companions (LIREC) project which explores how we live with digital and interactive companions and develops their ability to read and display emotion. It is a segment of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme which bundles all research related EU initiatives together under a common roof.

The following video shows some examples of the various expressions and emotions EMYS can convey.

View gallery - 13 images