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Mood robot

Don’t be surprised if a robot cracks a series of jokes because you “look” depressed. (If in reality you are nursing a headache and the jokes make it worse you have only your expression to blame).

An Indo-Japanese project is trying to develop a software to help robots take their cue from human facial expressions. The three-year project begun last October is being simultaneously conducted at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Calcutta, under the central ministry of communications and information technology, and the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Japan.

“The Japanese tourist industry hopes to bridge language barriers with computers interpreting the likes and dislikes of foreign travellers from their facial expressions. Such software can also be used to help children, senior citizens and others who are mentally or physically challenged,” says Debashish Majumdar, C-DAC joint director.

Western research on facial expression analysis can boast contributions of leading scientists like Charles Darwin, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen. The Alice O’Toole database records data on 50 subjects. “But these cannot be used because expressions are culture-specific,” says Soma Mitra of C-DAC. Anyone comparing emotional moments from Bollywood and Hollywood films will agree.

For the Indian facial expression database C-DAC scientists are collaborating with actors Subrata Chowdhury and Dipak Das of theatre group Sundaram.

“Stage actors are better able to communicate deeper emotional responses. In real life there is always a tendency to restrain or hide facial expressions and the ability to express feelings varies from person to person,” said actor-director Manoj Mitra, who is being consulted by C-DAC.

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