by David Geer
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zeno — The First Complete
Human interaction is its main attraction ...
Zeno — due on the market as a toy
in 2009 — is the closest thing to
human that a robot has become.
Its facial expressions are a story all
to themselves, enabling the most
complete robot personality and
human-to-robot emotive interactivity to
date. Want some proof? Read on!
Zeno is a 16-inch, six-pound,
interactive robot boy developed by
Hanson Robotics with help from a
number of vendors including
RoboGarage and roboticist Tomotaka
Takahashi, of Japan, who is responsible
for creating Zeno’s body.
The body prototype uses 18
servos, enabling the robot to walk, run,
balance on one foot, lie down and
get up, and gesture, as in non-verbal
communication, according to Dr. David
Hanson, PhD, who worked with
Takahashi to produce the combined
Zeno is Born
Only recently completed (September
2007), Zeno, the boy robot, offers every
human facial response. Zeno (animation
software from Massive Software and
Maya software) is the world’s first
“complete character robot,” according to
Complete character means Zeno
has facial expressions, walking and gesturing expressions, and conversational
capabilities like a complete human
being would have.
Zeno smiles, frowns, and gets
angry. He looks sad, surprised, and
afraid. He can present confusion or
concentration as well, according to Dr.
Hanson. The mouth moves when Zeno is
speaking, the eyelids each work independent of the other, and the eyeballs
turn side-to-side, and look up and down.
“In the toy, we intend for the ears
Even from the start, Zeno’s head was more
than a hat rack. Here is a shell of Zeno’s
head with notes and numbers; a part of
the design process.
A clay mock-up of Zeno from
the design phase.
to wriggle,” says Dr. Hanson. Zeno can
nod, turn, and tilt its head. “These
motions can be used expressively, as
well as to affect eye contact with
people and otherwise look around the
robot’s environment,” Dr. Hanson says.
Zeno — like other Hanson character
robots — interacts with people with a full
range of robotically orchestrated facial
expressions and conversation enabled by
Hanson’s Artificial Intelligence software
and carried out by Hanson’s patented
robot mechanics and materials.
Thanks to a company called
Sensory, Zeno recognizes and
understands human speech, according
to Dr. Hanson. Zeno can respond with
substantial verbal exchanges.
Not short on words, Zeno’s vocabulary is what scientists like Dr. Hanson call
“arbitrarily large” in size, meaning it is
more than big enough for the job at
hand. “As people talk with the robot, the
robot listens especially for words and
phrases most pertinent to the recent
conversation,” says Dr. Hanson.
Zeno analyzes human speech to
get the intent of the conversation.
While the robot makes errors in
speech recognition 10-20 percent of
the time, it can still respond to
human commentary, staying on
topic, according to Dr. Hanson. This
mirrors human exchanges, in which
people generally stay on topic but
allow conversation to flow and take
Photos are courtesy of Thomas
Riccio unless otherwise noted.
10 SERVO 01.2008