A Stockholm-based technology startup company, Furhat, has taken robots to the next level with their face-swapping robots.
The robots give AI a face and are designed to adopt multiple personalities. Furhat is a social robot built to communicate with humans like humans do – by speaking to one another, listening, showing emotions and maintaining eye contact. Furhat achieves this human-like status by using a back-projected facial animation system. This includes a head shaped display which features an opaque mask onto which pretty lifelike looking faces can be projected.
This mask can be changed depending on its use, allowing the disembodied bust to take on various personalities. It also comes with a selection of pre-built expressions and gestures which can be further customised to fit any character. Human-like movement is mimicked using three degrees of freedom which allow the robot to direct attention to different objects and individuals. Meanwhile, a wide-angle, high fidelity camera and beamforming stereo microphones allow Furhat to interact with its audience.
Two hi-fi 2.5" speakers allow virtual speech direction and, according to the company, the device can record your own voice and have the device lip sync automatically, whilst its system supports a wide array of high-quality text-to-speech voices in over 30 languages.
Inside is an operating system that manages its interaction using a conversational engine based on an advanced computational model of hierarchical state machines. It gives it the ability to handle very expressive and low-latency interactions, simplifying and abstracting complex user behaviours when necessary. This way it knows when it's being spoken to and when to listen to the conversation happening around it.
Furhat robotics says the device isn't built with any particular purpose in mind although they do note that its ability to serve as an information point to help customers, provide companionship, train employees or even teach a language. You probably won't see Furhat in your home anytime soon, but the company is working with names like Disney, Merck and Honda to find roles for the robot in the workplace.