I will never, ever let this disembodied robot head sing me to sleep.
And it's not just because she sings like a cross between Actroid F and Alvin and the Chipmunks. It's because she stares straight through you with those unblinking black eyes, looking like she could lunge at your neck with her big robot teeth at any moment.
Our terror aside, the robot head out of Taiwan does have talent. Unlike other singing robots, or even the singing robot mouth, she can read music. She does so by photographing a musical score with cameras built into her eyes. An algorithm extracts the pitch, rhythm, and lyrics and sends it to the robot's voice synthesizer.
And she doesn't just sit there singing robotically, either. Her motor-driven facial expressions apparently change automatically to match the emotions of a song's lyrics.
The singing robot head comes courtesy of Chyi-Yeu Lin and colleagues at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. They detail their work in a recent paper.
This research is aimed to devise an anthropomorphic robotic head with a human-like face and a sheet of artificial skin that can read a randomly composed simplified musical notation and sing the corresponding content of the song once.
OK, but what's the ultimate goal here, besides pushing us all deeper into the Uncanny Valley, that place where humans experience revulsion at facing replicas that look and act almost like them, but not quite.
"Maybe it's one of those things that a robot can do better than ordinary people," Lin tells New Scientist. "It can read [the music] in 40 seconds and then close its eyes to sing." Also, the robot can sing songs in any language, as long as the lyrics are written with Roman spellings, says Lin, whose research focuses on intelligent robots, intelligent machines, computer vision, artificial intelligence, optimal design, and giving adults nightmares.
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But the intent here appears to go beyond merely providing musical entertainment. The researchers say they would like to put the robot heads to work as receptionists in Chinese businesses. Because we all know robot-receptionist heads with bodies attached are so 2008.