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UCSD's robot baby Diego-san appears on video for the first time


January 7, 2013

Diego-san, an expressive infant robot developed for UCSD's Machine Perception Lab, makes faces for the camera

Diego-san, an expressive infant robot developed for UCSD's Machine Perception Lab, makes faces for the camera

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A new android infant has been born thanks to the University of California San Diego's Machine Perception Lab. The lab received funding from the National Science Foundation to contract Kokoro Co. Ltd. and Hanson Robotics, two companies that specialize in building lifelike animatronics and androids, to build a replicant based on a one year old baby. The resulting robot, which has been a couple of years in development, has finally been completed – and you can watch it smile and make cute faces after the break.

Diego-san, as it's called, is actually much larger than a standard one year old – mainly because miniaturizing the parts would have been too costly. It stands about 4 feet 3 inches (130 cm) tall and weighs 66 pounds (30 kg), and its body has a total of 44 pneumatic joints. Its head alone contains about 27 moving parts. Hanson Robotics, which sells a line of expressive robots called Robokind, is responsible for Diego-san's head. You may recall the company's earlier work, such as their replicant of Philip K. Dick, or Albert Einstein – the latter a collaboration with KAIST's Hubo Lab. As a result of this expertise, Diego-san's face is much more realistic than other expressive robots like IURO.

The robot was designed as a research platform for studying the cognitive development of infants. This will involve UCSD's work with natural communication, such as reading and mimicking facial expressions, which is why the robot has such a realistic face.

Understanding brain development

"Its main goal is to try and understand the development of sensory motor intelligence from a computational point of view," explains Dr. Javier Movellan, who heads the UCSD Machine Perception Lab. "It brings together researchers in developmental psychology, machine learning, neuroscience, computer vision and robotics. Basically we are trying to understand the computational problems that a baby’s brain faces when learning to move its own body and use it to interact with the physical and social worlds."

Dr. Javier Movellan, UCSD Machine Perception Lab, poses with an incomplete version of Diego-san at Kokoro Co. Ltd. in Japan

Dr. Movellan's group has worked with children and robots for years. Previously, he was part of the RUBI Project, which had toddlers interact with the Sony QRIO (the ill-fated humanoid counterpart to the company's robotic dogs). It was found that children treated QRIO as if it was a living thing, and even tucked him in with a blanket when he laid down to "sleep" – though actually, his batteries simply needed recharging. Diego-san differs in that it will be mainly attended to by researchers as they would a child.

Kokoro Co. Ltd. designed and built Diego-san's intricate body, and they have some experience in this area, having previously designed and built the android infant CB2 for Osaka University. They were able to take what they learned from that robot and improved it with Diego-san, making it one of the most realistic android infants ever built.

"Diego-san was developed to approximate the complexity of a human body, including the use of actuators that have similar dynamics to that of human muscles," Dr. Movellan said.

Diego-san may be the first robot baby of the new year, but with Roboy scheduled for completion in a few months, and other android infants in progress, it won't be alone in the world for long. It remains to be seen if any of them can escape the dreaded Uncanny Valley.

Source: UCSD Machine Perception Lab via David Hanson (YouTube)

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

What purpose can it serve? Seems like a waste of time and money, but I guess there are people with an abundance of it to waste.

Gregory Gannotti

Wow! That's the most realistic face I've seen yet! The "spooky coefficient" is rising...


They did a pretty amazing job with it. Every time someone goes into a coma for a couple weeks the hospital should stamp a fake bar code on their wrist and have this thing be their first experience with the new world just to mess with them.

"Good morning subject HN31512, it is May 2065, you have been asleep through the war and I'm here to assist you with integration into the camp"


Looks like it could jump out and kill ya if you didn't change its diaper on time...


For anyone doubtful that androids would ever walk among us unnoticed, imagine today's tech advanced 20 or 40 years. ... They will walk, talk, and think like us, maybe even better, while looking, feeling (to the touch), and responding quite like us if not identically. Synthetic brain tech is advancing at an astonishing rate. Of course, most robots will be made to look other than human to avoid freaking them out to avoid rejection due to the so-called "uncanny valley" effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley


We are building a future more devastating than anyone can imagine. Meet young Frankenstein.


A couple of years of development? And how many real babies around the world starved to death in that time? Humanity has some very warped priorities.


@Gannet you should probably stop visiting any tech website then... How many years of development did that computer you're using take? Does that equate to starving babies or has it saved some?

The people that think robots will surpass us may be right but I don't think we'll be far behind for long. There might be a Kurzwellian 'sigularity' where man and machine are mixed but that will only be a temporary phase. Eventually it will be genetics and engineered evolution. Better brains, stronger muscles -- without working out, higher density bones, better hearing with a wider range of frequencies, better control of eye focus and color range, tougher but more flexible skin. They all exists in other animals and I think before machines rule the world we'll rule the universe.


Is it just me, or does anyone else see the resemblance to Sheldon Cooper?

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