Einstein the robot has enchanting eyes, the color of honey in sunlight. They are fringed with drugstore-variety false eyelashes and framed by matted gray brows made from real human hair. “What is that, makeup?” a visiting engineer asks, and, indeed, on closer examination I can see black eyeliner smeared beneath Einstein’s lower lids, à la David Bowie in 1971. The machine’s gaze is expressive—soulful, almost.
David Hanson, Einstein’s creator, is visiting from Texas to help scientists here at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) prepare the robot for an upcoming conference. Hanson switches the robot on—really just a head and neck—and runs it through some of its dozens of expressions. Its lips purse. Its brow furrows. Its eyes widen as though in horror, then scrunch mirthfully as it flashes a grin.The 27 motors in the face make a wretched grinding sound, and when the mouth opens, I see a tangle of wires where the prodigious brain should be. Einstein’s white wig is missing and the skin of its neck hangs in flaps, because its shoulders, made of plastic, got shattered in shipping.