Orecchio: Extending Body-Language through Actuated Static and Dynamic Auricular Postures
Body language is an expressive means of non-verbal communication, and is used in more than 50% of daily conversations. One of the main limitations of body language is human anatomy, as only certain parts of the body can be used to meaningfully express body language – primarily the face, limbs, and hands. We investigate the possibility of extending the vocabulary of human body language via the ear, an unused part of the body with limited mobility, but whose posture and movement has shown expressive meanings in other animals (e.g., cats, dogs, sheep, or cows). In this paper, we enhance the ear, specifically the auricle – the visible part of the ear – for expressive output.
The prototype was implemented using off-the-shelf electronic components, miniature motors, and custom-made robotic arms. The device has a micro gear motor mounted on the bottom of a 3D printed ear hook loop clip. The motor drives a plastic arm against the side of the helix, able to bend it towards the center of the ear. Rotating the plastic arm back to its rest position allows the helix to restore to its original form. Near the top of the earpiece is another motor that drives a one-joint robotic arm that is attached to the top of the helix, using a round ear clip. Rotating the motor extends the robotic arm from its resting position, to bend the top helix downwards the center of the ear. The motor together with the one-joint robotic arm is mounted on a linear track that can be moved vertically through a rack-and-pinion mechanism, driven by a third motor. Moving the rack upwards stretches the helix.
Using the auricle to extend body language can be useful in many situations. Our main objective is to explore new applications that can be enabled with this novel concept. For example, people with disabilities that involve severe impairment and the inability to use their face or limbs properly (e.g., those suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), have difficulty expressing emotion. Using the auricle is one potential solution to allow for emotional expression or to enhance conversational flow with others, becoming a less obtrusive alternative to using a screen. As a body language, auricular postures can potentially be more natural and engaging than using a screen once accepted by the users. Moving the auricle also provide intrinsic haptic feedback to inform the user about auricular movements, which does not exist in a screen.
Furthermore, the auricle can also potentially increase social awareness of people before they engage a person who is temporarily (or situationally) impaired (e.g. eating, typing, diving, or wearing a face mask while performing a chore), leading to an improved ability to navigate and react to different social situations (Figure 1). In this context, the ear serves as an awareness display.
Finally, when combined with verbal methods or existing body language techniques (e.g. posture, touch, etc.), it can potentially provide richer and more expressive communication.