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UC San Diego baby robotSAN DIEGO – A robot developed at UC San Diego has the face of a boy and can smile, look sad, even angry.

Named after America’s Finest City, Diego-San is learning how to express human emotions in hopes it and others to come can develop relationships with humans in the future.

“Diego-San is part of a series of studies of how humans move and interact so we can build Humanoid robots in the future,” said post-doctoral researcher Deborah Forster. “What we do is we record a lot of infant smiling and then we take that data and we feed it to Diego-San.”

Researchers said this smart technology works similar to the one already in use in social media websites to recognize friend’s faces or cameras that set off a flash only when it detects people smiling.

For example, if Diego-San detects a smiling face it can smile back.

“You can imagine a situation where you have a pretty smart device that learns to interact with you,” Forster said.

UCSD researchers are working with other labs across the country and scientists in Japan to develop and improve the different parts that make up Diego-San.

They’re hoping the Humanoid robot can be used in therapy sessions with special needs children to help develop their social interactions.

“We know that with autistic children for example, they are more comfortable with computers than with people,” said Forster.

The multimillion dollar project has been in the works for a couple of years and there are bigger plans for Diego-San.

“Imagine a robot learns from watching humans how to manufacture a product, the robot becomes an expert, then the robot can also teach a novice,” she said.

Similar technology is already being tested elsewhere to use robots to do advance manufacturing work.

Forster believes it won’t be too long before Diego-San can be seen walking side by side with people.

“Imagine like a robot companion,” said Forster.

The project is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.