Hanson Robotics

The Making of Sophia: Software Engineering for Arms and Hands

With the growing trend of collaborative robots in our homes and workplaces, it has become more important than ever for robots to effectively work alongside and communicate with people. One important aspect of human communication that has gone relatively untapped by robots is nonverbal communication, particularly hand gestures. According to a study of TED talks, the most popular speakers used nearly double the amount of hand gestures as the least popular speakers. In fact, hand gestures are such an innate part of how humans interpret language that people who are blind from birth tend to have the same hand gestures as other fluent speakers in their language. By having a human-like hand design and the ability to make hand gestures, robots can tab into these many nonverbal cues that are deeply ingrained in human communication. 

Sophia the Robot, the latest and most advanced robot in the Hanson family of robots, is a social robot who is able to use her robotic arms and hands to gesture while she speaks. She can use hand movements to emphasize specific points or use them to help convey emotions and other additional information. However, unlike animals who have instincts for how to move their arms or legs from birth, robots like Sophia typically learn hand gestures thanks to a combination of hand-crafted animation and machine learning algorithms.

To teach Sophia new hand gestures, such as waving hello, Sophia’s animation team works with a virtual model of Sophia to animate the desired movement. Once this process is complete, the animation can be stored on Sophia for later use. These animations are then categorized and parameterized based on NLP (Natural Language Processing) algorithms and rules, so Sophia can automatically use the most appropriate hand gestures as she speaks.

Sophia’s ability to perform natural hand movements and match them to the content of her speech allows her to express herself more effectively. By combining hand and facial gestures, Sophia is able to bond with humans and engage with them on a deeper level. These qualities will become increasingly important as social robots continue to work alongside human coworkers, and expand into new customer service applications.

The Hanson Robotics Team

Photo and Video Credits:  Hanson Robotics Limited