Robot Demo Features Realistic Eye Movements...with no Face

Robot Demo Features Realistic Eye Movements...with no Face

Progress or uncanny valley? Or both?

“In climbing toward the goal of making robots appear human, our affinity for them increases until we come to a valley, which I call the uncanny valley.” 

- Masahiro Mori, robotics professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, 1970

Disney Research’s latest robotics demo could be the first example of the uncanny valley where the subject has no face.

To be more specific, Disney Research released a video with an animatronic bust demonstrating advanced, human-like eye movements. The hitch? The robot has no skin on his face. And yet…it’s familiar and more than a little disturbing.

The animatronic demo is part of a Disney paper with the goal of creating a “lifelike gaze in human-robot interactions.”

Disney theme park robots must have operators to “manually design and refine trajectories to create fluid motions,” and while, as the paper points out, this prevents those behaviors from descending into the uncanny valley, it “limits humanoid animatronics to performing non-interactive, scripted shows.”

Disney’s roboticists chose to focus on the eye gaze because the “gaze has been shown to be a key social signal.”

Their demo unit replicates "saccades," or rapid eye movement between multiple points, and the effect is striking – even with no skin on its face, the animatronic looks eerily lifelike.

There’s a legitimate debate to be had as to whether adding skin would make the demo more or less creepy and possibly descend fully into the uncanny valley.

Check out the demo here.