- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

DENVER, Feb. 17 (UPI) — Robots of the future will be able to smile, frown and sneer on cue, as well as respond appropriately to human facial expressions, the creator of one such prototype said Monday.

Doctoral student David Hanson of the University of Texas at Dallas displayed K-bot, an artificial human face equipped with "infinite possible expressions," which he said can mimic the human face and respond to sociably to people.

Yet K-bot cost only about $400 to build, Hanson told United Press International, although its software sometimes fails to perform. Indeed, one of his attempts to display the device — at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — fell apart when K-bot refused to respond to control. Nonetheless, Hanson said, a human-like face is going to be vital for many robots of the future.

"We are beginning to knit together the bits of artificial intelligence into a comprehensive robot," he said, "but you have to have a face … because the human face is the most natural paradigm for human interaction."

K-bot has a repertoire of 28 different basic expressions using 24 controls that Hanson called "fake muscles." It weighs about 4 pounds and has a polymer skin that stretches and bends much like human flesh. Its eyes house two cameras that convey human expressions to software that — when it works — allows K-bot to mimic and respond to them.

Hanson said the device can be useful to scientists developing human-like robots and it might have medical applications.

"Some people can't recognize facial expressions," he said, "and they have a very hard time socially."

K-bot could help them learn how to react properly to real humans, he said.

Whether human-like robots — such as C-3PO in "Star Wars" or a more advanced version of K-bot — will ever exist was questioned by physicist Yoseph Bar-Cohen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

It will depend on "customer demand," Bar-Cohen told UPI. "If no one cares about it, it will not happen."

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