A prototype of a robot was created by Cornell University research scientists that is capable of expressing “emotions” through visible changes on its outer surface. These changes are based on “robot skin” that covers a grid-like of shaped texture units that change depending on the robot's feelings.
A lecture titled "Robots with 'soul'", by assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Guy Hoffman, explains that a robot capable of communicating nonverbal cues through its outer covering (skin) was inspired by animals which supports the notion that robots should not be thought of in human terms. "I've always felt that robots shouldn't just be modeled after humans or be copies of humans," explains Hoffman. "We have a lot of interesting relationships with other species. Robots could be thought of as one of those 'other species,' not trying to copy what we do but interacting with us with their own language, tapping into our own instincts."
The studies on emotional robots, by lead author and doctoral student Yuhan Hu, was examined in a paper titled "Soft Skin Texture Modulation for Social Robots” where it was presented at the International Conference on Soft Robotics in Livorno, Italy. The paper was also featured as a publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The design by Hoffman and Hu exhibits an array of two shapes consisting of goosebumps and spikes that map to varying states of emotion. These shapes actuation units are built into texture modules and integrated with fluidic chambers connecting bumps of the same type. Furthermore, the research team investigated two different actuation control systems that include features capable of minimizing size and noise level.
"One of the challenges," Hoffman said, "is that a lot of shape-changing technologies are quite loud, due to the pumps involved, and these make them also quite bulky."
There is no specific application for the emotional robot designed by Hoffman. However, it can pave the road of inspiration to continue advancing robotic machines. "It's really just giving us another way to think about how robots could be designed," says Hoffman. But, prospective obstacles of developing an emotional robot include the need of technology scaling. "At the moment, most social robots express [their] internal state only by using facial expressions and gestures," the paper concludes. "We believe that the integration of a texture-changing skin, combining both haptic [feel] and visual modalities, can thus significantly enhance the expressive spectrum of robots for social interaction."
Source: Science Daily