Expressive baby robot confirms why infants smile at their mums

(Image: David Hanson/Machine Perception Laboratory)

This baby-faced robot may look slightly creepy but it will probably make you smile. Designed to mimic the facial expressions of an infant when it interacts with its caregiver, it has helped confirm that young babies don’t smile randomly.

Paul Ruvolo at the Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, and his team programmed the robot to produce smiles with the same timing as a 4-month-old infant. It can also react to the grins of a human volunteer.

The team found that the robo-baby smiled for as short a time as possible to elicit a grin. This agrees with previous studies of face-to-face interaction between mothers and infants. A mother’s goal, on the other hand, is to prolong the shared smile time with her newborn.

Although the experiment doesn’t give any insight into whether young babies, or caregivers, are aware of what they are doing, it suggests that their smiling patterns have a social goal. The results shed light on early human development and could help identify abnormal interactions in infants.

This isn’t the first robo-baby. One robot infant was able to learn to talk by listening to a human, while robot babies are being used to teach soon-to-be parents how to breastfeed.

Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136492

By Sandrine Ceurstemont

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