When we communicate with screen-based avatars or video chat with people via FaceTime or Skype, the interaction is rather flat and two-dimensional. However, a new identity-swapping robot with a contoured face wants to change that.
Developed by UK-based Engineered Arts, the SociBot-Mini is a human-like bust with a gesture-tracking camera that can recognize a person’s mood and respond accordingly. Perhaps its coolest feature is its transparent plastic face, which includes the proportional curves of a nose, mouth, eyes, cheekbones, forehead and chin. When backlit with a digital projector, the head displays generic faces or more familiar ones based off a headshot. Its creators think the SociBot-Mini could add more of a human touch to teleconferences or kiosk avatars we interact with at banks, airports or malls.
“It’s as spooky as all hell,” Will Jackson, Engineered Arts Director, told New Scientist. “We’ve tried it with a couple of our telecommuting colleagues in meetings and when it suddenly turns and joins in the conversation as our colleague Dan, and with his face, it is quite amazing. But you get used to it quickly.”
The SociBot-Mini also comes with chatbot software, allowing the robot to hold simple conversations in more than 20 languages. While the robot isn’t quite capable of real-time video streaming, with all the face substitution projects in the works, video chatting with a three-dimensional “person” can’t be too far off. In the meantime, Engineered Arts wants to make a streamlined version of SociBot-Mini for home use.