Robot Heads. Here’s some interesting news in the world of androids. It seems people really don’t have much of a problem with extremely realistic-looking humanoid heads, as long as they are on robots which aren’t put in depressing environments doing routine work. Researchers have discovered that the more industrial the robot, the less we humans want to perceive its resemblance to us.
Consumer or industrial robots are often made more “robotic-looking” or mechanical in design, since they’re made to perform “servitude and routine functions that would crush the spirit of any real human.” Fictional robots, on the other hand, are often the most human-like of all, because we reflect our projected fantasies for them as “characters,” and therefore enjoy seeing them come to life.
Android heads have become more and more lifelike over the years, as roboticists continue to find ways to improve both the physical and cognitive aspects of their creations, using the many breakthroughs in robotic technology.
One of them is David Ng, whose Hong Kong-based company has been making highly detailed, customized android heads for the public for about $2000 to $3000 each. Ng uses the program 3D Studio Max, as well as an elaborate procedure to recreate the photographs sent by his customers.
His company works with laser-cut, clear, acrylic material for the head, whose measurements come from data and dimensions recorded from the client’s skull. Polyester auto-body putty is then spread on its surface for volume, and semi-translucent silicone, finally, is used for the skin. The result is highly-realistic looking skin that actually shows “veins” and “blood vessels” within. Other parts of the head will be just as realistic: Ng and his colleagues go as far as replicating even the defects on a client’s teeth.
Apart from having an “artificial lung” and a “speed control” for breathing (this enables the robot to perform the inhale and exhale actions of a real human), the head includes 16 servos and 2 Mini-SSC controllers and aVSA software used to operate the facial actions. The head will be able to make most of the human expressions, including crying and laughing. Clients can further customize the head by installing their own components, such as microphones, speakers, or cameras.
There are other android heads, several built by private individuals and hobbyists, but some of the most famous heads that have astounded people are no doubt products of David Hanson and his team at Hanson Robotics Inc. Hanson is an American robotics designer and researcher who has been developing human-like robots with realistic facial expressions and conversational abilities. Among his most famous heads are Phillip K. Dick, science fiction author and writer of cult classic, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” Zeno of Elea, the mathematical philosopher and the physicist Albert Einstein, which he attached to a mechanical body, thereby turning it into a walking humanoid.
Obviously, Hanson is not a big believer of the uncanny valley. “That’s a view I completely reject. We are naturally attracted to faces and gestures,” he has reportedly said, making his work, no matter how challenging, easier without having to worry about freaking people out. And when it comes to building these android heads, indeed there are many. For one, the AI-driven motion control system must be able to credibly simulate all of the human face’s 48 major muscle groups in response to speech and machine vision inputs.
“The robots don’t just have to make the right expression, they have to make the right expression at precisely the right time,” Hanson says. “Expressions based on eye contact, for example, might have to take place in less than a third of a second in order to appear realistic.” Hanson’s robots also aim to reduce the usually high energy consumption of robots by creating low-power, compact motion control systems. His Einstein robot head, for example, which is actuated by 33 servo motors and related linkages, requires just 10W of power at 6V to achieve its full range of expressions. The robot head uses so little power that it can run on eight AA batteries.
Even then, Hanson’s technology is among the best in androids, mainly due to their many innovations. One of them is “Frubber,” a patented silicone elastomer whose mechanical properties influence the design of each robot’s entire motion control system. Hanson says the airy material moves “a lot like human facial tissue,” and without too much force. “Less force means I can use smaller motors and linkages, which in turn reduces my power requirements,” Hanson says. “Frubber makes it all possible.”
Hanson has also been putting a lot of effort on software and more advanced AI systems. His latest version “features enabling common sense reasoning and learning,” he says. “This is a collaboration of numerous groups dedicated to helping institutions collaborate on realizing greater-than-human genius in machine intelligence.”
Just as long as they don’t get higher salaries than we do, I suppose.
And speaking of a robot's head, an android or robot without a head can be quite odd. Now, while some people don't feel a head on a robot is even nessasary, we will ignore those people--at least for the purpose of this article. To give your robot personality you must choose and then buy or build a head for your mechanical friend.
For some folks, a large tin can works well as a head. Others would not be happy unless their robot had an R2D2-like dome. Still others love the "bubble-headed booby" head of clear plastic with flashing lights and spinning reflectors. For this author, a human/humanoid robot head is my favorite type of head. In this article we will discuss some of the many choices you have when creating your robot.
R2D2-types of Domed Robot Heads
If R2D2 is your favorite all time robot, then of course you are probably thinking about a dome-headed robot. Things to think about are: 1. will it be clear or painted or metal? 2. Will it have things inside such as cameras and other sensors? Will it be used as an antenna if it is made of metal?
Famous Robots with Domed Heads
From Star Wars there was: R2D2, R2V2, R2-W2, R3-T2, R2-D1, R2-D3, R2-T7, and of course from Forbidden Planet, Daleks, and Robby the Robot.
Buy a Dome for Your Robot
The R2 builders' group offers 18" domes for sale made from aluminum, fiberglass, or plastic. These can cost over 200 each.
You can also get clear squirrel domes online and at some home stores. These domes, designed to keep squirrels out of your bird food make great cheap robot domes and come in a variety of sizes. And don't leave out lamp domes. You can find domes of so many more shapes and sizes online at lighting stores. As with the squirrel domes they come in an even wider variety of sizes, AND colors!
Building a dome from scratch would require expertize in metal working, fiberglass modeling or vacuum forming plastics. It's a lot easier to buy a light dome, or a squirrel dome.
Round/ Spherical / Compressed Bubble Robot Heads
Who can forget the Lost in Space Robot and his compressed bubble. Now that is some dome and unless you are an expert with some top equipment, it's nearly impossible to make at home.
Famous Robots with These Kinds of Heads
Other robots with domes such as that include Honda's Asimo, Marvin from the film version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the steampunk Tic-Toc, the "army of Oz", and Eve from Wall-E.
Buy these Kinds of Heads
Buying a life-size Lost in Space robot bubble head will set you back at least $300. Buying two squirrel domes and gluing them together will cost about $150. Buying a spherical lamp fixture will set you back $50-200 depending upon the seller and the size.
Build These Kinds of Heads
Building a round robot head is fairly easy, you start with a ball of some sort and build from there. Now a sphere or compressed bubble are both a lot harder to build especially if you want your head to be clear.
Tin Can / Cylinder Robot Heads
Tin can-headed robots have been around forever. I even used a #10 coffee can to build my first robot's head back in the last millennium.
Famous Tin Can / Cylinder Heads
The list of tin can/ cylinder robots starts with Bender, and then goes to Star Wars' R5-K6, and the Jetson's Rosie the Robot.
Buy Tin Can / Cylinder Heads
One would need to search far and wide to find this kind of head for sale. Neither Radio Shack, Fry's, nor Best Buy will carry them.
Build Tin Can / Cylinder Heads
But, you can easily BUILD a tin can / cylinder robot head. Just go to any store and buy a large can of veggies, eat the veggies and viola! You have a tin can robot head! Or as another option, you can roll aluminum or plastic into a tube, seal the ends and you would then have a great head as well!
Binocular-style Robot Heads
Starting with Wall-E and going back to Johnny 5 of Short Circuit fame there were not a lot of robots with this style of head.
Buying a Binocular-style Head
Like the tin can heads, these kinds of heads are just not available.
Building a Binocular-style Head
While you could start with a pair of binoculars and modify, modify and modify some more, most Wall-E builders and Johnny 5 builders prefere to scratch-build each part to painstaking scaled accuracy!
Animal or Insect-style Robot Heads
If you are building an animal robot or an insectoid robot, you will definately need to add an animal or insectoid head.
Famous Animal or Insect-style Heads
While no famous animal or insectoid heads come to mind, there are probably a few around. Please add your comments below if you can think of one or two!
Buy Animal or Insect-style Heads
Now, animal robots and insect robots seem to be just as common as Barbie dolls. But there are no heads you can buy separately. So, perhaps if you find a great head on a toy, adding that head to your own robot would be a fitting sacrifice.
Build Animal or Insect-style Heads
Anyone with a bit of modelling skill can build an animal or insectoid head. Make a plan, draw it in 3D and then print it out on a 3D printer. Simple as pie, right?
Japanese/Anime-style Robot Heads
Gungam and Transformer robots are the quintessential anime-style robots and these kinds of heads seem to be easily found.
Buy Japanese/Anime-style Heads
Now these kinds of heads can't really be bought as parts, but go into most costume shops and you will find terrific anime-style robot masks, some that even cover the entire head. While you can certainly make one from scratch, for the robot builder who wants to move more quickly, these masks can make a great starting place for a mecha head.
Build Japanese/Anime-style Heads
Like the other robot heads, the anime-style masks can be made by anyone with a good skill for sculpting.
Cube/ Square / Rectangular Robot Heads
All through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, rectangular heads were found everywhere! Wind-up box-headed robot toys were found at many a boy's birthday party and under Christmas trees. Perhaps they did not last long with their easily broken springs, but they brought a smile to many.
Buy Cube/ Square / Rectangular Heads
Again, these kinds of heads can't be easily had as robot parts, but you can buy costumes with these heads.
Build Cube/ Square / Rectangular Heads
Building a rectangular head is as easy as pie. Build a box, find a box, 3D print a box and you have it done!
Skeleton-like robots seem to have started with the Terminator, sans skin and muscles of course. And then there was the Terminatrix who also looked good without her human-like flesh.
Buy Skeletal Heads
Terminator robot heads can be had through Fred-Barton Productions, of course you will need to buy an entire robot. And there are plenty of Terminator masks available for purchase. Still if you have the money, it's not a bad way to get a cool robot.
Build Skeletal Heads
Building these bad boys (and girls) would take more skill than most of us have. There are just too many parts and too specific of a look to get.
Humanoid Robot Heads
Now humanoid robot heads are my personal favorites. Since the beginning of TV and Movie history there have been humanoid / android robots with heads nearly identical to humans, and sometimes, c3PO comes to mind here, somewhat resembling humans.
Famous Humanoid Robot Heads
Some of the famous robots with human or humanoid heads were Elvis (by Wowwee Robotics) C3P0, Lt. Data, the Fembots from Austin Power, Sonny from I Robot, Astroboy, and so many more!
Buy Humanoid Robot Heads
These robots and their heads / masks can be had for a few dollars: FemiSapian, RoboSapian, Elvis, Andrew from Bicentennial Man, and C3P0.
Build Humanoid Robot Heads?
Welll, if you are VERY good at sculpting the human head, you would probably come up with a great humanoid head.
Or if you were short on sculpting talent, but had a 3D printer you could go to thingiverse.com, download and then print the InMoov head. The InMoov head is certainly a great robot head and a work of art!