Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mask-bot: A robot with a human face

07.11.2011
Robotics researchers in Munich have joined forces with Australian and Japanese scientists to develop an ingenious technical solution that gives robots a human face.

By using a projector to beam the 3D image of a face onto the back of a plastic mask, and a computer to control voice and facial expressions, the researchers have succeeded in creating Mask-bot, a startlingly human-like plastic head. Yet even before this technology is used to give robots of the future a human face, it may well soon be used to create avatars for participants in video conferences. The project is part of research being carried out at CoTeSys, Munich’s robotics Cluster of Excellence.


Mask-bot: A robot with a human face
Uli Benz / Technical University of Munich

Mask-bot can already reproduce simple dialog. When Dr. Takaaki Kuratate says “rainbow”, for example, Mask-bot flutters its eyelids and responds with an astoundingly elaborate sentence on the subject: “When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow”. And when it talks, Mask-bot also moves its head a little and raises its eyebrows to create a knowledgeable impression.

What at first looks deceptively like a real talking person is actually the prototype of a new robot face that a team at the Institute for Cognitive Systems (ICS) at TU München has developed in collaboration with a group in Japan. “Mask-bot will influence the way in which we humans communicate with robots in the future,” predicts Prof. Gordon Cheng, head of the ICS team. The researchers developed several innovations in the course of creating Mask-bot.

The projection of any number of realistic 3D faces is one of these. Although other groups have also developed three-dimensional heads, these display a more cartoon-like style. Mask-bot, however, can display realistic three-dimensional heads on a transparent plastic mask, and can change the face on-demand. A projector positioned behind the mask accurately beams a human face onto the back of the mask, creating very realistic features that can be seen from various angles, including the side.

Many comparable systems project faces onto the front of a mask – following the same concept as cinema projection. “Walt Disney was a pioneer in this field back in the 1960s,” explains Kuratate. “He made the installations in his Haunted Mansion by projecting the faces of grimacing actors onto busts.” Whereas Walt Disney projected images from the front, the makers of Mask-bot use on-board rear projection to ensure a seamless face-to-face interaction.

This means that there is only a twelve centimeter gap between the high-compression, x0.25 fish-eye lens with a macro adapter and the face mask. The CoTeSys team therefore had to ensure that an entire face could actually be beamed onto the mask at this short distance. Mask-bot is also bright enough to function in daylight thanks to a particularly strong and small projector and a coating of luminous paint sprayed on the inside of the plastic mask. “You don’t have to keep Mask-bot behind closed curtains,” laughs Kuratate.

This part of the new system could soon be deployed in video conferences. “Usually, participants are shown on screen. With Mask-bot, however, you can create a realistic replica of a person that actually sits and speaks with you at the conference table. You can use a generic mask for male and female, or you can provide a custom-made mask for each person,” explains Takaaki Kuratate.

In order to be used as a robot face, Mask-bot must be able to function without requiring a video image of the person speaking. A new program already enables the system to convert a normal two-dimensional photograph into a correctly proportioned projection for a three-dimensional mask. Further algorithms provide the facial expressions and voice.

To replicate facial expressions, Takaaki Kuratate developed a talking head animation engine – a system in which a computer filters an extensive series of face motion data from people collected by a motion capture system and selects the facial expressions that best match a specific sound, called a phoneme, when it is being spoken. The computer extracts a set of facial coordinates from each of these expressions, which it can then assign to any new face, thus bringing it to life. Emotion synthesis software delivers the visible emotional nuances that indicate, for example, when someone is happy, sad or angry.

Mask-bot can realistically reproduce content typed via a keyboard – in English, Japanese and soon German. A powerful text-to-speech system converts text to audio signals, producing a female or male voice, which can then set to quiet or loud, happy or sad, all at the touch of a button.

But Mask-bot is not yet able to understand much of the spoken word. It can currently only listen and make appropriate responses as part of a fixed programming sequence. However, this is not something that is restricted to Mask-bot alone. A huge amount of research worldwide is still being channeled into the development of programs that enable robots to listen and understand humans in real time and make appropriate responses. “Our established international collaboration is therefore more important than ever,” explains Kuratate.

The CoTeSys group has chosen a different route to researchers who use dozens of small motors to manipulate individual facial parts and reproduce facial expressions. Mask-bot will be able to combine expression and voice much faster than slower mechanical faces. The Munich researchers are already working on the next generation. Mask-bot 2 will see the mask, projector and computer control system all contained inside a mobile robot. Whereas the first prototype cost just under EUR 3,000, costs for the successor model should come in at around EUR 400. Besides video conferencing, “These systems could soon be used as companions for older people who spend a lot of time on their own,” continues Kuratate.

Mask-bot is the result of collaboration with AIST, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.

Contact:
Dr. Takaaki Kuratate
Institute for Cognitive Systems (Chair: Prof. Gordon Cheng)
Technische Universitaet Muenchen and
CoTeSys Cluster of Excellence (Cognition for Technical Systems)
Phone: +49 89 289 25765 (PR Officer Wibke Borngesser, M.A.)
E-Mail: kuratate@tum.de, borngesser@tum.de

Dr. Ulrich Marsch | idw
Further information:
http://www.ics.ei.tum.de

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht How protons move through a fuel cell
22.06.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Fraunhofer IZFP acquires lucrative EU project for increasing nuclear power plant safety
21.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Zerstörungsfreie Prüfverfahren IZFP

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

Im Focus: Optoelectronic Inline Measurement – Accurate to the Nanometer

Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.

New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation

22.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Plant inspiration could lead to flexible electronics

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

A rhodium-based catalyst for making organosilicon using less precious metal

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>