Next-level robots become human-like with enhanced facial movement

Humanoid robot developers in China have found the way to incorporate enhanced facial expressions and emotions into their already human-like robots.

The evolution of the robot has officially begun, or at least that’s how it seems to appear on the floor of the Ex-Robots factory in China’s northeastern coastal city of Dalian.

Here, Ex-Robot engineers develop humanoid robots with a focus on enhancing facial expressions and emotions.

Ex-Robots Chief Executive Li Boyang says that humanoid robots are the “most complex class of robotic products.”

It can take between two to four weeks to produce just one humanoid robot, the company states, with prices ranging from 1.5 to 2 million yuan, about $280,000.

On the factory floor, neck-length silicone masks, plus arms and feet, lie sprawled on a table, while disembodied heads sit on display adjacent stands of humanoid robots in various stages of construction. Drawings of robot designs are plastered on the walls.

Ex-Robot humanoid robot factory
Employees work at the office of humanoid robots developer Ex-Robots in Dalian, Liaoning province, China June 6, 2024. Image by Florence Lo | Reuters.

Li said Ex-Robots is also working on the “foundation model” which is being made “multi-modal and capable of emotional expression.”

“It can perceive the surrounding environment and produce appropriate facial feedback,” Li said, describing the robot’s human-like behavior.

As an Ex-Robot worker moves her head, smiles, and sticks out her tongue, a humanoid robot mimics her movement thanks to tiny motors installed in several spaces in its head.

"There are many basic models and algorithms that are commonly open source, which everyone uses. However, we concentrate more on how to enable the AI to recognize and express expressions and emotions,” Li explained, adding that “the company had its own software and algorithm teams.”

Ex-Robot humanoid robot half head
A humanoid robot stands at the office of developer Ex-Robots in Dalian, Liaoning province, China June 6, 2024. Image by Florence Lo | Reuters.

For the betterment of society

Formed in 2013, Ex-Robot calls itself a ‘high-tech enterprise specializing in the research and development, production, sales, and service of intelligent bionic humanoid robots’ – and a well-known brand in the industry.

However, the robots' main purpose so far has been as ‘live simulation’ robot displays installed at the company’s EX Future Science and Technology Museum, which is housed inside the Ex-Robots factory.

Still, Li company stands for the idea of humanoid robots eventually playing a larger role in the helping industries, for example, such as healthcare and education.

The company’s website lists five industries foreseen as most likely to easily adapt humanoid robots in a job or role:

  • Elderly Care
  • Corporate front desk
  • Government services
  • Children's education
  • Business activities

Teasing the imagination, the Ex-Robots website showcases other humanoid models, including a female robot sitting at what appears to be a TV studio desk as a news anchor, a male robot wearing a chef's coat, and another female robot portraying a traffic cop.

"Psychological counseling and health are certainly future application scenarios. We are currently conducting related research, such as auxiliary treatment and preliminary screening for emotional and psychological disorders," Li said.

Li believes that the robot's capability to display emotions will allow broader applications in service fields, such as a child's teacher or caregiver.

“There are a lot of jobs that humanoid robots can actually be competent at,” said Li, who also predicts that household management – whether chores, cooking, cleaning, and/or childcare – will become “the most massive demand.”

Li anticipates that “every person may have a humanoid robot in the future at home for their service, or even more than one.”

When people start wanting these types of humanoid robots and the market demand skyrockets, “it is the time of the industry boom,” Li said.

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