May 26, 2009 When in science fiction films robots show anything other than blind obedience – or something akin to feelings – it tends to spell trouble for the human race. I, Robot and Blade Runner come to mind. So here we are, not even properly ensconced in the age of humanoid robots yet, and already researchers at Japan’s Waseda University and Kyushu robotics manufacturer Tmsuk have conspired to create a robot, named KOBIAN, that can express a range of emotions.

According to its makers, the humanoid KOBIAN expresses seven different feelings, including surprise, sorrow, happiness and disgust.

Borrowing features from previous human robotic designs – such as the bipedal WABIAN-2 and the emotion-expressing WE-4RII – KOBIAN interacts with its environment, walking, performing menial tasks, but uses its face as well as its body to express a range of emotions.

A double-jointed neck helps the bipedal robot to strike its expressive postures, while motors in the face move lips, eyelids and eyebrows to create expressions.

If KOBIAN is sad, it hangs its head and raises a rubberized hand to its forehead to emphasize its despair. If it is happy, it throws back its hands, widens its eyes and drops its jaw. If it wants to be coy, it narrows its eyes, averts its head and raises its hands in a defensive manner.

The robot’s makers believe KOBIAN is likely to interact better with humans – and vice versa – if it can express emotions. We, on the other hand, think it can only mean one thing. Trouble.

Paul Best

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