Nikola The Emotional Android Child

Robot, av forsaken-art., NTB scanpix, PantherMedia. ( CC BY-NC 4.0.

By: Lena Tosounidis, Journalist

07At the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2022, the RIKEN Guardian Robot Project from Japan showed off their child-like android, Nikola. This robot can display six basic human emotions: happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, sadness, and anger. 

Nikola’s expressions, and the artificial muscles that form them, are controlled by 29 pneumatic actuators. Pneumatic actuators are devices that move objects using the energy of a compressed gas, typically air. Being powered by air pressure allows the movement of the artificial muscles to be smooth and silent. Each actuator was positioned and placed according to the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a system for classifying human facial expressions regarding muscle movement and position.

Eventually, the researchers had to test whether other people could identify Nikola’s emotions. This testing took place in two steps: with a trained professional and with ordinary people. First, a person certified in FACS scoring judged Nikola’s various expressions, successfully classifying each action unit in the android’s face and confirming its ability to mimic human emotion. Next, the group brought in regular people to identify Nikola’s emotions. While the rate of accuracy in determining the expressions was higher than expected, people tended to have trouble recognizing emotions such as disgust. The silicone making up the robot’s face is much less flexible than human skin, which prevents it from wrinkling properly. 

Despite not having a body or appendages, Nikola is a landmark for AI technology. The scientists and researchers at RIKEN will continue to improve this android until it can be used to assist and care for humans in their day-to-day lives.