If you've ever seen the British sci fi series "Red Dwarf," you'll be struck by how much of a resemblance Zoe, the interactive talking head developed by Toshiba's Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering, bears to Holly, the computer interface.
Ironically, the real face on which Zoe is based belongs to British actress Zoe Lister, who plays Zoe Carpenter on the series "Hollyoaks."
Zoe is programmed to replicate human emotions, responding to cues provided by the user to display happiness, anger, fear, or to change the tone of "her" voice to suit the text she is reciting.
Researchers hope to use Zoe to help teach autistic children facial cues, or to be applied as a realistic avatar for text messages, bringing the lowly emoticon-smiley into a whole new realm of creepy as Zoe--or the user's own face--can explain why she's going to be a little late with an appropriate squinch of the eyebrows and wrinkle of the mouth.
Also on the subject of using robotics to help train autistic children to process visual cues, experts at Vanderbilt University are developing a system which integrates video screens with a two-foot-tall humanoid robot named NAO. Tests have shown that children--and children with autism spectrum disorder in particular--pay more attention to the robot than to a human therapist, and follow its instructions almost as well as they do the human. The suggestion is that the robot would capture and maintain the children's attention better than a human, and thus engage them more in the training.
You can read more about these advances in human-robotics interface at the following links:
For the robot NAO: