Meet Nikola, a robotic child capable of expressing six fundamental emotions

Android robots capable of emotional connections with humans offer enormous research potential. While various research has built androids capable of displaying human-like emotive facial expressions, few have scientifically verified the facial expressions of androids.

Researchers from Japan’s RIKEN Guardian Robot Project have built Nikola, an android infant capable of showing six fundamental emotions – pleasure, sorrow, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust – by moving “muscles” in its face. The android head resembles a hairless kid.

The actuators were positioned based on the Face Action Coding System (FACS), which has been widely utilised to research facial emotions. Previous research has discovered a variety of facial gestures – such as ‘cheek raiser’ and ‘lip pucker’ – that represent common emotions like as happiness or contempt, and the researchers included these action units into Nikola’s design.

The researchers had a group of individuals watch Nikola and determine which emotions it was showing to test if they could accurately understand the robot’s facial expressions. They discovered that the subjects could distinguish these six emotions, albeit with variable degrees of accuracy. Some emotions were simpler to grasp than others. This is due to Nikola’s silicone skin being less elastic than actual human skin and so incapable of forming wrinkles. As a result, emotions such as disgust were more difficult to discern since the action unit for nose wrinkling could not be included.

“In the short term, androids like Nikola can be essential study tools for social psychology or perhaps social neuroscience”, says RIKEN Guardian Robot Project principal researcher Wataru Sato. “When compared to human confederates, androids are adept at managing behaviour and can permit rigorous empirical research into human social interactions”.

While Nikola currently lacks a body, the Guardian Robot Project’s ultimate objective is to create an android that can aid humans, particularly those with physical requirements who may live alone. “Androids that can emotionally interact with us will be valuable in a variety of real-life circumstances, such as caring for elderly people, and can increase human wellness”, Sato adds.

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