This paper examines methods of developing electroactive polymer (EAP) actuators for actuating human-like facial expressions in sociable robots. EAP actuators could improve such robots in several ways - they could reduce the mechanical complexity of the robots and the robots' weight and power requirements, potentially leading to robots that are more robust, more easily manufactured and ideal for autonomous mobility. After a discussion of the state of the technique in UTD's face-based communication robots (the Identity Emulation robots project), this paper considers various EAP actuation technologies, and ways of adapting them towards use in these robots.
Applications of this class of human-robot interface devices will rise in relevance as humans and robots begin to have more sociable encounters in the coming years. Key to success in this undertaking is the multi-modal integration of mechanics, sociable intelligence, and design aesthestics and dynamic stable mobility, and the innovation of skin materials that are lighter in weight and deformed with less force. Recent innovations in urethane polymers, described in this paper, have resulted in a humanoid facial skin that is actuated by considerably reduced force (16 to 20 oz.), relative to previously available skin polymers. These actuation requirements may put this facial expression technology within the capabilities of existing EAP actuation technologies.