Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Terror has a face. Kind of...

Any aesthetics enthusiast will tell you that minimalism will never go out of fashion. And, at the point where technology and design converge, that love of uncluttered simplicity is even more pronounced.

Product designers seem to spend more time on form than they do on function, and will continue eliminating buttons, cables and readouts until every gadget in the world looks like a giant white pebble. With a big apple on it.

Understandably, no-one seems to mind minimalism when it comes to AV equipment. But when it's applied to fledgeling robotics technology, this design ethos takes a turn towards the decidedly creepy.

Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have been working with the
Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute to create a new kind of real-world avatar. It's their dream that next time you're on Skype with a loved one, your new animatronic buddy would be able to replicate their expressions and movements. That way, you'd have the sense that you're talking to a real person, rather than trying to have a conversation with some poorly recorded CCTV footage.

It's a noble, if rather indulgent, endeavour. In fact, the main flaw in their approach lies in their strict adherence to the rules of 21st century gadget design.

Suspended from a clothes rail, like a partly formed foetus,
Telenoid R1 has "a soft silicone body that is pleasant to the touch, and it uses 9 actuators to move its eyes, mouth, head and rudimentary limbs." Mmmm, sounds just like Grandma.

Despite the scientists' best intentions, the execution falls far short of the vision. They say that Telenoid R1 is able to recreate the expressions and movement of your friends and family, but it actually has all the facial mobility of
Sharon Osbourne after a fire sale at the Botox clinic.

I can't say for sure, but I imagine it would be hard to maintain any kind of intimate or emotional atmosphere with Telenoid R1. Especially if you're whispering sweet nothings into something that looks like Casper after he gave up on all that 'friendly ghost' shit and hit adolescence.

The truth is, you'd have a more engaging experience by making a fist and lip-synching, using the your thumb as the lower jaw. You could even paint little lips on it, which is more than this freakishly featureless phantasm has to offer.

Just imagine - walking into a darkened room, only for someone to start messaging you through this demonic doll before you've found the light-switch. Nothing says "I love you" quite like soiling yourself over a live video feed.

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