Prototype potential: Cat mask expressions controlled by facial muscle movements via non-contact interface

[From CNET’s Crave blog; more information, including images and a 1:31 minute video, is available at DigInfo TV]

Giant robot cat mask purrfect for pesky mice

by Tim Hornyak November 14, 2011

Japanese writer Natsume Soseki, author of the celebrated novel “I Am a Cat,” would have loved this one.

Researchers at Tokyo Metropolitan University’s Ideea Lab have developed a giant furry cat head that mimics the movements of its human wearers.

The Neko Kaburu headpiece, aka the AnimatronInterface, consists of an inner mesh mask equipped with sensors that track eyelid, mouth, and muscle movements.

These are reproduced in the cat mask, so users look like they have giant cartoon cat heads.

The prototype was shown off last month at the 19th International Collegiate Virtual Reality Contest (IVRC 2011) in Tokyo.

It’s a proof-of-concept device to show how facial movements can control relatively sophisticated devices. The researchers say the technology could be used by paralyzed people to switch channels on a TV, for instance. Presumably they would have to wear the mesh mask, however.

Another, more dubious, proposed application is scooter riders manipulating navigational displays inside full-face helmets.

Meanwhile, the researchers plan to add functionality to the mask with moving ears. These would not be the first moving, wearable cat ears developed in Japan, of course. Remember Necomimi, the mind-controlled furry appendages we saw and then tested earlier this year?

Not that I’m into furry fandom, but I think Neko Kaburu has the makings of a major hit among costume fanatics. At the very least it could rid your house of mice forever.

Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of “Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots.” He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. Tim is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive.


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