I went to a community with Chris and Juliet two months ago. When I passed by the waiting area outside the treatment room, I saw people sitting there with boring, empty eyes, like the lady in this picture.

Photo by Julia

Photo by Julia

Photo cited from internet

Photo cited from internet

People have mixed feelings while waiting for doctor, worried? scared? unhappy? I thought, maybe, we can do something to ease this tension, to make people feel better.


Suddenly, something jumped into my mind: a robot comes to you and smiles to you!

I made my imagination into a storyboard as shown.

Thus I got an exciting design opportunity: how can a smile robot ease the tension in the waiting area?





Smiling is one of the most common things in people’s life; everybody smiles everyday.

It costs you nothing to smile, just like someone wrote in his poem.

Photos by Sha LI

Photos by Sha LI

Also, smile brings many benefits. There are hundreds of studies focus on how smile can make people feel better. A famous one was done by Robert Zajonc in 1989, his experiment found that people felt good after making the long “e” sound (the muscles go to the almost same positions as smiling). In 2012, scientists of the University of Kansas also found the evidence of simply smiling can reduce stress and increase well-being.

What’s more, smile is contagious. A research group did an experiment at a tram stop on one Monday morning, they sent a man to the crowd, who would begin laughing suddenly. Let’s see what happened next (experiment of NEW Laughing Buddha).

Among these facts, there is a good business: trade smileEveryone is going to be winner :P, because it costs you nothing, brings you benefits and is easy to be passed on.

Diagram by Sha LI

Diagram by Sha LI



It seems that a robot is helpless in the situation of waiting room, compared with the doctor and the nurse. However, it could be helpful. Japanese made a robot named Geminoid TMF in 2010, which can move its rubber facial skin to imitate a smile. According to the report, the developers said they expected the robot to be eventually used in real-life situations, for example in hospitals. “We’ve already got some data showing that the robot gave patients psychological security by nodding and smiling at them.” I believe this kind of function comes from the magic of smile.

Geminoid TMF and a model,   Photo cited from internet

Geminoid TMF and a model, Photo cited from internet

How would you feel when a robot smile to you? A good case of studying how human beings behave when you facing a robot is Tweenbot. It is an AI-less smiling robot with a flag saying that “Help me to go home.” When it was roaming in the street, it got stuck or tumbled. It is interesting that people who saw these, stopped walking, helped him up and let him head on. Finally, the Tweenbot got home.

Photo cited from internet

Photo cited from internet

While looking at human beings’ response to the smile robot, Chris helped me realise that I have come into a very interesting and challenging field, affective computing. Affective computing is the study and development of systems and devices that can recognise, interpret, process and simulate human affects. It is getting popular in the domains of artificial intelligence and human computer interaction. Some developers and designers will take human affects into account while making the robot. The influence of smile is one of the common topics. 

Diagram by Sha LI

Diagram by Sha LI

Next stage, I will apply the knowledge of affective computing to my design. For example, the robot might be able to classify different kinds of smile in order to see whether certain person is truly smile or not, then it could response differently. Besides, different face styles of robot should be tested to see which one is most reasonable to human beings, a comic one, real lifelike one, or some other styles? Also, more design could be done to give the robot better interaction with human beings, such as eye following to make one feel that the robot is looking at him.



Following is a flow telling what I’ve done during the second semester.

Diagram by Sha LI

Diagram by Sha LI



I presented the project on May.8th and got useful advice. 

Take full advantages of smile economy

Chris gave an excellent idea that making the robot sounds like the cash register when captures smiles successfully. That will give people good feedback simulating the economy. I also add the pay-off sound effect of slot machine to robot’s dancing moment, which would happen after enough smiles have been captured.

How much would the effect be in the situation of a real waiting room?

It should be tested. I will try to bring the robot back to the waiting room as soon as possible. One problem is the robot might be too small at this stage, another problem is the battery.

Working better with kids?

As pointed, the smile robot doesn't make sense to everyone; people may not smile back. Should the project focus on a particular group? I don't think so. The purpose of this project is to ease the tension of the waiting room, since the people there could be anyone, the targets would better not be narrowed into kids. Thus, work should be done to make the robot more than a toy.

Negative influence

The reason people smile or laugh under such situation could be ridicule. Thus would distort the originally goodwill of the robot. How to prevent this happened? Or maybe another solution should be found?

Social effects

Fionn said that what he likes the project most is that the communication between one person and the robot could arise other people’s interest; it is delightful to watch people smiling with a robot. 



SmileBot has been on some events, like #include series.


Special thanks to Chris Speed for directing me during the development of this project. Thank Chris Barker, Fionn, Julia, Irene, and June for supporting me.