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Freaky! Fembot Sings, Mimicking Pop Stars

Researchers in Japan are fashioning a singing, dancing fembot that they hope will perform in pop music concerts someday.

To make the android's vocal performance look more natural, and – in theory, at least – less creepy, the researchers have analyzed and applied the head movements and facial expressions of a real human singer.

The warbling robot, with the Star Wars-esque designation HRP-4C, stands at about five feet, two inches (1.58 meters) tall. It has the appearance of a young Japanese girl, although one admittedly wearing a RoboCop suit minus the helmet.

For HRP-4C's mellifluous voice, the researchers originally relied on software made by Yamaha called Vocaloid. This synthesized singing program is based on recorded vocal libraries provided by actual flesh-and-blood singers.

In the latest demonstrations of the robot's pipes, however, the researchers went with their own new technology dubbed VocalListener, which synthesizes a robotic voice on a computer in imitation of a human voice.

A second technology in play, called Vocawatcher, allows the robot's head to mimic the cranial tilts and nods displayed by a diva belting out a tune.

Another effort to boost the bots' authenticity involves the replication of human breathing. A software program detects where a person would likely draw a breath during a stream of sung utterances, and then this subtle sound is generated based on audio files in Vocaloid.

As shown in the above video, the researchers have captured many of the nuances of a typical vocal performance.

The head tilts – along with the white teeth peeking out from behind the lips and the programmed eye blinks – supply a hefty, rather disturbing dose of verisimilitude.

And although HRP-4C's mouth opens and closes fairly in sync with the projected vocals, the unchanging shape of the lips, which do not flex or scrunch quite like a singer's do when forming certain sounds, ultimately lessen the realism.

HRP-4C's creators would like to see her kind make inroads in pop culture to help get people more comfortable around automatons that could enhance modern life.

"For robots to become widespread in society, I think they need to be used widely in the entertainment industry," said Masataka Goto, leader of the media interaction group at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology that is developing HRP-4C. "As one way of enabling this, we've tackled the challenge of seeing how well a robot can imitate a human singer."

If HRP-4C is ever to dazzle a concert crowd, however, the researchers will probably have to give the fembot's dance choreography a bit of the hyperkinetic MTV treatment. For now, the songstress does little more than just sway her arms.

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Adam Hadhazy
Adam Hadhazy is a contributing writer for Live Science and He often writes about physics, psychology, animal behavior and story topics in general that explore the blurring line between today's science fiction and tomorrow's science fact. Adam has a Master of Arts degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. When not squeezing in reruns of Star Trek, Adam likes hurling a Frisbee or dining on spicy food. You can check out more of his work at