This humanoid robot can read facial expressions and make his own

Hanson Robotics' Han the robot made his debut at the Global Sources Electronics Fair, where he interacted with visitors, holding eye contact and conversation.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
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Hanson Robotics' lifelike humanoid robots are really something. With their patented Frubber ("flesh rubber," because that doesn't totally conjure up a horrifying mental picture) skin and wide range of facial expressions, they're definitely unnerving to look at -- but their ability to interact with humans makes them some of the most advanced humanoid robots in the world.

The newest member of the Hanson robot family, Han, is just extraordinary. Making his debut at the Global Sources Electronics Fair in Hong Kong -- one of the largest electronics fairs in the world -- the Frubber-faced fellow was the belle of the ball.

Mounted on a stationary clear body, through which viewers can see Han's electronic guts, the robot's face is the point of contact for interaction. It's programmed with pattern recognition software that, paired with a variety of cameras in its eyes and chest, allow the robot to recognise and interact with the person in front of it.

For instance, the robot can identify a person's eyes and maintain eye contact. It can also identify human facial expressions and respond to them with an impressive array of facial expressions of its own, controlled by 40 motors behind its skin that make subtle movements to smoothly adjust the robot's face.

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Voice recognition software allows Han to hold simple conversations with people, too -- although his replies seem somewhat scripted, much like a sophisticated chat bot.

The idea seems to be a more human interface for certain situations that don't necessarily require a human; behind hotel reception desks, or at a museum, acting as a tour guide. Robots such as Han could also be useful for education applications, aged care, or even medical training applications, Hanson Robotics said -- the company did not elucidate precisely how, but we're imagining a talking human patient simulator.

According to Reuters, Hanson Robotics will be commercialising its systems in female robot Eva, rather than Han, which will be going into production later this year.