Scientists Work to Make Android Faces Less ‘Unsettling’

In an effort to make human-looking androids less creepy to humans, a team of engineers examined why some of their facial expressions seemed off to most observers.

Example of the facial flow lines when two androids (left and middle) and adult males (right) lifted their inner eyebrow. (Credit: Ishihara, Iwanaga, and Asada)

(CN) — Androids haven’t taken over the world as depicted in so many novels and films, but they’re a step closer to looking like humans thanks to new research revealed Monday.

Engineers at Osaka University in Japan wanted to find out why the facial expressions of androids seem either off-putting or downright creepy to most people. They set up motion capture cameras to study and compare human and android expressions.

“Advanced artificial systems can be difficult to design because the numerous components have complex interactions with each other. The appearance of an android face can experience surface deformations that are hard to control,” study first author Hisashi Ishihara said in a statement.

Ishihara added that the deformations usually occur when mechanical parts such as actuators interact with the android’s fake skin or skull. His team detailed their findings in a study published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

Scientists in Japan have long been leaders in the field of robotics, creating lifelike automatons that have pushed the boundaries of what was once purely the realm of science fiction.

The scientists discovered the androids failed to fully imitate curved flow lines of human faces when displaying facial expressions, particularly in the upper part of the face.

Researchers examined the expressions of five android faces such as raising an eyebrow or smiling. They then compared those to human faces, which helped reveal the differences.

The research team noticed a disparity between flow lines for androids and adult male humans. In particular, the lines in humans were curved whereas the lines in androids were straight, giving the robots an unnatural look. They also found a difference in how the skin moved up and down in the upper facial region.

“Redesigning the face of androids so that the skin flow pattern resembles that of humans may reduce the discomfort induced by the androids and improve their emotional communication performance,” senior author Minoru Asada said. “Future work may help give the android faces the same level of expressiveness as humans have. Each robot may even have its own individual ‘personality’ that will help people feel more comfortable.”

The engineers said they hope their research can bring about more lifelike faces, perhaps toning down the creepiness of modern androids.

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