February 6, 2009

Einstein Brought Back To Life In Robot Form

Albert Einstein, the world renowned scientist, has been brought back to life in the form of an empathetic robot. 

The robotic, rubberized version of Einstein's head and shoulders pushes the boundaries of automation by interacting with people through emotional nuances.

The robot, which features Einstein's distinctive mustache, wowed onlookers at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference.

The conference, held in Long Beach, CA. hopes to encourage entrepreneurs, scientists, and designers with its exhibits and keynote speakers.

The robot, designed by David Hanson, a roboticist from Dallas, TX, follows onlookers with his eyes, and smiles or frowns when appropriate. 

"It's machine empathy," Hanson told the crowd at TED. "This is a robot that can understand feeling and mimic it."

Einstein wasn't always so empathetic.  Two weeks ago Hanson's robot was joined together with software created by the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California in San Diego.

The creators of the software believe computers will one day be able to relate to humans on a level unseen today.

Just recently, the same computer techniques created for the Einstein robot were used to impose Brad Pitt's expression on a computer-created version of him as an elderly man in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." 

Ed Ulbrich, the movies digital visual effects producer, explained to the TED audience how it took 155 employees to bring Pitt's elderly face to life.

The latest Einstein robot, which is the fourth of its kind, was created just two months ago.  Other Hanson robots are on display at universities and museums around the globe.

Hanson developed the robotic Einstein to mimic the movements of the human faces 48 muscles.  The robotic face uses 32 motors to create the expressions, and two hidden cameras to look out of its eyes.

According to Nicholas Butko, a UC San Diego graduate student who joined Hanson at the convention, the goal is to develop computers that can perform perceptual functions as effortlessly as the human brain.

Currently, the software tracks 13 different functions, including raising eyebrows, wrinkling the nose, and blinking the eyes.

"One of our goals is to make a computer that can reliably tell how sincere someone's smile is," Butko said.


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