May 2008

Recognition technology for cameras, robots

OMRON Corp. unveiled a new technology in Tokyo in April that can measure the breadth of a smile.

The software technology scans a video image to detect faces. It can find up to 100 faces in an image, according to Yasushi Kawamoto of OMRON, a Japanese electronics and healthcare company. They call the product "Okao Catch."

Using data collected from a million people and their smiles, The Associated Press reported, the machine then analyzes the curves of the lips, eye movement, and other facial characteristics to decide how much a person is smiling.

In a demonstration, a camcorder took videos of journalists covering the announcement. Percentage numbers indicating how much each person was smiling popped up in bold blue letters next to their faces on a monitor, flashing higher or lower as their expressions changed. The numbers ranged as high as 89% for a person who was grinning, while a somber face registered 0%.

Sony Corp. already has a similar Smile Shutter function for its digital cameras that automatically clicks the shutter when people in the image break into a smile.

However, Kawamoto said OMRON hopes to use its technology in the medical field, to assess the emotional state of patients, or pack it in mobile phones.

Okao Catch can also be useful for people who want to perfect their smiles, or for robot communication to make it easier for machines to decipher human reactions, according to OMRON.

My Spoon, a robot arm with utensils at the end, helps disabled people feed themselves by using a joystick controlled by their chin. Tokyo-based Secom Co. said it has sold 250 of the My Spoon kit for about $4,000 (400,000 yen; €2,500) each in Japan and Europe.

Also on display was a robot dog for home assembly from HPI Japan, a maker of radio-controlled cars. The robot is to go on sale worldwide for about $800 (80,000 yen) later this year. The dog could walk, hop, get back up on its feet, and even stand on its head.