Meet Nikola, the Android Head Learning to Express Emotion

New video shows that the robot can also recognize and look at a person talking using cameras in its eyes.

Jesse Orrall Senior Video Producer
Jesse Orrall (he/him/his) is a Senior Video Producer for CNET. He covers future tech, sustainability and the social impact of technology. He is co-host of CNET's "What The Future" series and Executive Producer of "Experts React." Aside from making videos, he's a certified SCUBA diver with a passion for music, films, history and ecology.
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Emotional expression has long been one of the things that separates man from machine, but a new android head named Nikola aims to change that.

Nikola is part of the Guardian Robot Project, which aims to "incorporate psychology, brain science, cognitive science and AI research toward a future society where humans, AI and robots can flexibly coexist." The research is backed by RIKEN, a Japanese-government funded research institute.

In a study recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers described their methods for creating Nikola's expressive facial movements as well as the psychological data that both informed and validated those movements. The emotions expressed in the study were: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.


The range of Nikola's emotions.


"Social interaction is quite important for humans," said Wataru Sato, principal investigator on the project. "We think androids having such abilities will be quite important in research and real life applications."

One possible application for such technologies is in eldercare. Of course, Nikola still has a long way to go before we'll see it giving interviews around CES like some other expressive robots we've covered.

Dr. Sato says next steps include improving and expanding Nikola's facial expressions, giving it a voice and a body, and instilling all of those with emotional expressiveness that can work together for multimodal expression.

To see Nikola in action, check out the video at the top.