on new directions, Dr. Hanson explains.
Frubber — It’s All
in the Skin!
Hanson’s patented Frubber synthetic materials technology makes it
possible to give Zeno and other robots
a wide range of life-like, emotive facial
responses. Frubber enables Hanson
robots to form near-real human expressions with what is the closest to real
skin that robotics materials have come
so far, while requiring a fraction of the
power needed by other solutions.
Hanson’s “structured porosity elastomer” (SPEM) uses a hierarchy of pores
that can pack into other pores down to
smaller and smaller scales — even to the
molecular level — resulting in very skinlike foam. The robot skin stretches like
human skin and packs like skin to enable
more realistic human expressions.
Frubber stretches to greater than
eight times its original size or compress-es to fractions of its original form while
using less than .045 percent of the
power required for other robot face
expression solutions. The power reduction makes it possible to use replaceable
batteries for the facial operations which,
in turn, helps make it possible to create
human-like bipedal robots that run without being tethered to power supplies.
Zeno complete with depth of character.
Just look into those eyes!
Hanson’s electrical and computing
technologies include the patent-pending Character Engine AI framework, which works in conjunction with
The AI framework and software
enable robotic movement including
human-like qualities that were not
previously transferable from computer
animation to robotic actuation. The AI
and machine intelligence can run on a
single, standard PC, which can control
the robot wirelessly, explains Dr. Hanson.
“In our first prototype, we are
using Bluetooth wireless for the motion
control and the sensor data, and analog composite RF for video transmission. In the final product, we intend to
use Wi-Fi (802.11g),” says Dr. Hanson.
According to Dr. Hanson, the
Character Engine framework is a modular and extensible software architecture
for developing extremely intelligent
characters. This generally means the
software is well designed so it’s easy to
expand on the programming that exists,
to code other things to go with it.
The modular approach to coding
the software makes it easy to interface
the Character Engine with other AI and
robotics software like MS Robotics
Studio, Intel Open CV, and a variety of
The Character Engine provides a
good framework (programming
structure) for writing personalities into
the individual robot’s characters. The
Character Engine enables code/
personality authors to quickly create
new personalities with software tools
just for that purpose.
The Character Engine uses Maya
software, as well as Massive software,
which will be familiar to games and
animations programmers, to
control the animated behavior of the robot, so it can
express its personality. So,
what games and feature film
animation language writers
and program developers have
been doing is not simply
bringing characters to life on
screen, but paving the way to
bring them to life in 4D!
The Massive Software
programming serves as the
motor cortex — the interactive animation brain for
Hanson’s robots. “Massive is
Full-length Zeno. His body is mobile, too.
the right tool for the job, delivering
extremely lifelike character behavior in
response to sensory stimuli, a capacity
well demonstrated in numerous films,
including the Academy Award winning
crowd effects in the “Lord of the
Rings” movies,” comments Dr. Hanson.
The Character Engine software
also combines state-of-the-art computer vision, face tracking, and motion
tracking with other sensory input, so
Zeno’s personality knows who and
what it is interacting with and responding to. Zeno uses motion detection and
computer vision to recognize facial
Zeno at WIRED’s Nextfest.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Carpenter.
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