Disney unveiled an animatronic robot with the same gaze as humans built to create 'the illusion of life'

Brittany Chang
·3 min read
Disney Research robot gaze
Disney Research's new robot with a human-like gaze. Disney Research
  • Disney Research unveiled a lifelike robot with eerily similar gazing abilities as humans.

  • The robot can mimic human actions like head tilts, blinking, breathing, and rapid eye movement.

  • This new development is a part of Disney's goal to create robots that can interact with people in a human-like manner by using what the company calls "the illusion of life."

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Disney Research unveiled an audio-animatronics human bust with a lifelike gaze that eerily mimics a real person's eye and head movements.

Audio-animatronics are Disney's animatronics figures used throughout its theme parks to serve as lifelike characters. According to the study announcing this new eye gaze capability, these widely used animatronic figures imitate real life by using "fluid motions."

Now, Disney Research has built upon the audio-animatronics human bust by giving it the ability to mimic human-like eye gaze and head movements.

The "Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze" study announcing this development was authored by people on the Disney Research and Walt Disney Imagineering team, as well as two researchers from the California Institute Of Technology and the University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. Shortly after the study was unveiled, Disney Research Hub published a one-minute YouTube video displaying the robot's human-like functions.

Keep scrolling to see the robot up close:

This project builds upon previous work primarily focused on the "technical implementation" of human gaze in a robot by adding a level of realistic human-like characteristics to its eyes and head movement.

Disney Research robot gaze
A screenshot of Disney's "Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze" YouTube video as the robot "glances." Disney Research

This is done by copying several complex human responses to new interactions and movements.

The robot has all the components of a human face, such as eyelids, eyes, a nose, and a mouth with teeth and gums.

Disney Research robot gaze
A screenshot of Disney's "Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze" YouTube video. Disney Research

The robot relies on a camera sensor on its torso.

The robot can mimic human-like actions like tilting its head, blinking, rapid eye movements, and breathing, to name a few functions.

Disney Research robot gaze
A screenshot of Disney's "Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze" YouTube video. Disney Research

The copying of these basic functions gives the robot its ability to look human-like without being verbal.

"Given the importance of gaze in social interactions as well as its ability to communicate states and shape perceptions, it is apparent that gaze can function as a significant tool for an interactive robot character," the study states.

Disney Research robot gaze
Disney Research's new robot with a human-like gaze. Disney Research

No human maintains perfect eye contact consistently. Therefore, Disney's new robot doesn't either.

The eye gaze implementation is a part of the company's goal to create robots that can interact with people in a realistic manner by using what Disney calls "the illusion of life."

Disney Research robot gaze
A screenshot of Disney's "Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze" YouTube video. Disney Research

In this case, the "illusion of life" is a combination of "robot gaze, animation, and show," which is important because the robot will serve as different Disney characters.

This particular robot's gaze also has different behavioral states that make it more interactive: read, glance, engage, and acknowledge.

Disney Research robot gaze
A screenshot of Disney's "Realistic and Interactive Robot Gaze" YouTube video. Disney Research

For example, the "read" state is its default and has eye movements that make it appear as if it's reading a book at its torso. Meanwhile, the "engage" state means the robot is looking at a "person-of-interest" with movements in both its eyes and head.

The robot fluctuates between the states depending on its "curiosity score" of the stimuli.

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