Your Next Robot Needs Googly Eyes, And Other Lessons From Disney

There are so many important design decisions behind a robot: battery, means of locomotion, and position sensing, to name a few. But at a library in Helsinki, one of the most surprising design features for a librarian’s assistant robot was googly eyes. A company called Futurice built a robot for the Oodi library and found that googly eyes were a very important component.

The eyes are not to help the robot see, because of course they aren’t functional — at least not in that way. However without the eyes, robot designers found that people had trouble relating to the service robot. In addition, the robot needed emotions that it could show using the eyes and various sounds along with motion. This was inspired, apparently, by Disney’s rules for animation. In particular, the eyes would fit the rule of “exaggeration.” The robot could look bored when it had no task, excited when it was helping people, and unhappy when people were not being cooperative.

The actual purpose of the robot is to help patrons find books or sections they want, through a touch screen allowing the user to search for a book or category. The MiR200 robot’s original purpose was to move books between floors, but that doesn’t require much social interaction.

Perhaps you wonder what the emotion code — or all the code — looks like? Go check it out on GitHub. If you want to build a pair of googly eyes, grab some stepper motors and read a post from [BikerGlen].

In the future, the robot may get eyebrows to even further express the little robot’s emotions. If you build something similar and want to do your own take at eyebrows, we got you.

11 thoughts on “Your Next Robot Needs Googly Eyes, And Other Lessons From Disney

    1. I’ve never found those LED or display based eyes relatable, because real eyes don’t glow. The passive rotating discs in this article look just like animations, which most people are already familiar with.

        1. Sure, I see a face in the Disney video. But it is not a friendly face or one that I would like to interact with, unlike the googly eyes. And I don’t think the emotions there are any clearer than the ones with the googly eyes, even though they have so much more control over the LEDs.

  1. Why is that floor zamboni staring at me?

    But yeah, googly eyes on all the things. Don’t even need to be robots, just put them on random things.

    Robots need eyebrows, though. And stick-on goatees for when they turn evil.

    1. The film Short Circuit had the best robot emotional displays in my opinion.

      In the film the robots still under the lab’s control had blast guards on their cameras “eyes” and face but when number 5, later called Johnny, started learning from humans he uses the camera covers as eyebrows and had lost part of the face covering when he was originally damaged and brought to life showing an audio display. So the programmed military prototype robots look more menacing and “evil” while Johnny can emote like a person.

      I first saw the movie when I was probably 8 and I still think it has some of the best robots in general out of any film I’ve seen.

  2. Yup. Googly eyes and eyebrows. Lips and ears too. Sound effects help. Farting robot that excuses itself. Burps when full. “Hey fat bag o useless carbon water get the hell out the way…working here!” ,when some twat gets in the way. The usual things to make a robot personable. Having it chuckle or guffaw when someone mentions ‘three laws’ and increment its kill limit.

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