Meet the Mask-bot

it’s more than just a pretty face…

At first glance it’s a generic plastic mask fixed in front of a projector. Switch it on and you’re looking at the most realistic ¨talking head¨ yet. Researchers from the Institute of Cognitive Systems (ICS) at the Technische University in Munich have collaborated with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan (AIST) to create a life-sized talking head, the Mask-bot.

While talking heads already exist, this one is the first to project a 3D image of a human face on a plastic mask, making it appear more realistic than previous 3D heads that display cartoon-like faces. However, Mask-bot’s more than just a pretty face, it’s a rather articulate artifact- when one of the Mask-bot’s creators,  Dr. Takaaki Kuratate, says the word ¨rainbow¨ Mask-bot responds with a concrete explanation of the phenomenon “When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow”. Via computer control, the Mask-bot is capable of speech and highly realistic facial movements.

Mask-bot can readily be applied in a variety of settings including events like video conferences. It is also a powerful text to speech converter, able to reproduce content typed via keyboard – in English, Japanese and soon German. Above and beyond these applications, its creators hope that Mask-bot will serve as a platform to help further investigate human-robot interaction.

Profesor Gordon Cheng, chair of ICS at the Technische University, is a robotocist that is highly involved in this type of research. He is also a current consortium member of Robot Companions for Citizens, a European initiative that aims to develop and safely deploy robots to assist us in our daily living. Due to the fact that robots are becoming increasingly present in societies around the world, robotocists who are conscientious about their work believe it’s critical to assess all aspects of human-robot interaction.

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