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Dr. Javier Movellan Jumps to the Defense of Diego-San

After the widespread negative reaction to the design of Diego-San, the baby-headed robot being developed at the University of California San Diego with the help of Kokoro Co. Ltd., Dr. Javier Movellan took some time to explain the project on Botjunkie’s post “Robot Babies Are Always A Mistake“. I must admit a tinge of guilt having been the first one to comment, and laying the groundwork with a rather harsh joke.

I am Javier Movellan, the guy in the picture with Diego San and the leader of Project One at the University of California San Diego. What you see in the picture was the finished body of Diego San and the first prototype of the face. The body is an amazing piece of engineering that will challenge the limits of control theory and will help us move towards a better understanding of biological motion.

The face on the other hand was an obvious mistake and we are working on a new design. But remember the face is just a silicon mask that can be easily changed. It is unfortunate that the pictures of the old face were made public. I actually thought that the pictures were going to be for an internal leaflet and not to be made public. Then again that’s what robotic research is about. You make mistakes, learn from the experience and make your prototype better the next time.

Things are actually not that easy in terms of how to design the face as some of your comments lead to believe. A key aspect of Project One is to use robots to understand the development of motor control during the first year of life both. We are interested both in the development of interaction with the physical world (e.g., reaching, grasping) and interaction with the social world (e.g, pointing, smiling). Thus, facial expressions are very important for the project.

We are going back and forth as to whether the robot should have a face that looks like a human child, or whether it should have a face that looks more robot-like. Although the first pass may lead you to believe that the realistic human face is worse there are some very good face designers that do not agree.

It is rather unfortunate that the photos were released, but the cat is out of the bag. In my opinion the negative reaction is largely due to the mismatched head and body. A realistic head on a robotic skeleton, or vice versa, is going to look incomplete or worse dive into the uncanny valley. In this case, the project at UCSD’s Machine Perception Lab fell neatly into the category of robots I decried in “The Top 10 Reasons Not To Tempt The Uncanny Valley“. If you look at a similar project such as CB2 (photo: left), it could almost be described as being cute, and part of that is because it has a complete, consistent look from top to bottom.

That said, I don’t necessarily think it’s such a bad thing the photos are circulating, since the project is getting exposure. People poke fun at robots regardless of what they look like; the iCub (photo: top right) another baby robot, has more abstract features but is still often described as being “creepy” in comments abroad. With the unending jokes about robots taking over the world, it seems they just can’t win!

Dr. Movellan stated he would keep us all informed about the project and even involve readers in the ongoing design revisions over at Botjunkie, which I think is a great idea.

[source: Botjunkie] via [GetRobo (JP)]