meet nikola, the robot with feelings


researchers from the RIKEN guardian robot project in japan have created an android child that can successfully convey six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. named ‘nikola’, the expressive humanoid robot can generate a spectrum of emotions by moving artificial muscles in his face. the project, led by wataru sato from RIKEN, is the first time the quality of these six android-expressed emotions have been tested and verified.

japanese scientists create android kid 'nikola' that expresses six basic emotions
the facial action units (AUs) produced by the android





the expressions are made by 29 pneumatic actuators that control the movements of artificial muscles inside nikola’s face. another 6 actuators control head and eyeball movements. controlled by air pressure, the pneumatic actuators can create numerous facial movements—such as ‘cheek raiser’ and ‘lip pucker’—that express typical emotions such as happiness or disgust. the team placed the actuators based on the facial action coding system (FACS), which has been used extensively to study facial expressions.


a person certified in FACS scoring was able to identify each facial action unit, indicating that nikola’s facial movements accurately resemble those of a real human. a second test showed that everyday people could recognize the six emotions in nikola’s face, albeit to varying accuracies. this is because nikola’s silicone skin is less elastic than real human skin and cannot form wrinkles very well. thus, emotions like disgust were harder to identify because the action unit for nose wrinkling could not be included.

japanese scientists create android kid 'nikola' that expresses six basic emotions
nikola’s six basic emotions



the applications


‘in the short term, androids like nikola can be important research tools for social psychology or even social neuroscience,’  says sato. ‘compared with human confederates, androids are good at controlling behaviors and can facilitate rigorous empirical investigation of human social interactions.’ 


while nikola still lacks a body, the ultimate goal of the guardian robot project is to build an android that can assist people, particularly those which physical needs who might live alone. ‘androids that can emotionally communicate with us will be useful in a wide range of real-life situations, such as caring for older people, and can promote human wellbeing,’  says sato.


the new study has been published in frontiers in psychology here.