When conversing face-to-face, there are a wide range of other emotions and inflections conveyed by our facial and body expressions. But what if you can’t express emotion this way, whether due to a physical impairment, or simply because of a covering—like a dust mask—temporarily hides your beautiful smile, and perhaps your hands are otherwise occupied?
As a solution to this dilemma, a team of researchers has been working on Orecchio, a robotic device that attaches to the ear and bends it to convey emotion. Three motors allow the ear to be bent in 22 distinct poses and movements, indicating 16 emotional states. Control is accomplished via an Arduino Due, linked up with a windows computer running a C# program.
The prototype was implemented using off-the-shelf electronic components, miniature motors, and custom-made robotic arms. The device has a micro gear motor mounted on the bottom of a 3D-printed ear hook loop clip. The motor drives a plastic arm against the side of the helix, able to bend it towards the center of the ear. Rotating the plastic arm back to its rest position allows the helix to restore to its original form. Near the top of the earpiece is another motor that drives a one-joint robotic arm that is attached to the top of the helix, using a round ear clip. Rotating the motor extends the robotic arm from its resting position, to bend the top helix downwards the center of the ear. The motor together with the one-joint robotic arm is mounted on a linear track that can be moved vertically through a rack-and-pinion mechanism, driven by a third motor. Moving the rack upwards stretches the helix.
The prototype is demonstrated in the video below, and more info is available in the project’s research paper.