Robots’ anatomy differs significantly from that of humans. While the head is a central and defining feature for humans, robots do not rely on a head in the same way. Just look at this atlas from Boston Dynamics; the robot is immensely capable, yet its head is barely there:

Image Credit: Boston Dynamics

Anyways, we’ve come a long way from 2010’s “Flobi” robo head, which was cute… and nothing else.

For robots, the head is just another component of their physical structure, which serves a specific set of functions. One of the most significant advantages of robots over humans is their ability to operate without the need for facial expressions or body language. Like, since robots do not experience emotions like humans, there is no need for them to convey feelings in the same way. However, a typical robotic head includes several important components, without most it’s not possible for the robot to function:

1. Sensors


Sensors are crucial components of a robotic head as they enable the robot to perceive its environment. In 2017, the global robotic sensor market was estimated to grow 2.5x by 2024; and writing this in 2023, it does seem so. A typical robotic head includes several sensors, such as cameras, infrared sensors, and other equipments. These sensors allow the robot to navigate through an unfamiliar environment, detect objects and obstacles, and avoid collisions. For example, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot uses a 3D laser scanner installed in its head to navigate and move through its environment.

There are several reasons why sensors are placed in the head of a robot:

a. Wide view of the environment: The head provides a wider view of the environment, which is essential for robots to navigate through their surroundings. Obstacles such as walls, trees, and other objects can obstruct the robot’s view. However, by placing the sensors in the head, the robot can have a wider and more comprehensive view of its surroundings.

b. Facial recognition: Some robots are designed to recognize and interact with humans. To achieve this, the robot needs facial recognition capabilities. Therefore, sensors need to be placed in the head of the robot to detect and recognize human faces.

c. Sound detection: Placing microphones and speakers in the head of a robot allows it to detect sounds and respond appropriately. This enables the robot to recognize voice commands and interact effectively with humans.

d. Emotional expression: By placing sensors in the head, robots can also display emotions such as happiness, surprise, or sadness. The use of facial features such as eyes, eyebrows, and mouth helps robots express emotions effectively. This helps robots communicate and interact better with humans.

Related: Best DIY Programmable Robot Kits for Adults

2. Actuators

Actuators are the components that enable robots to move and perform actions. In general, the more the actuators a robotic head has, the more human-like its movements can be. This is particularly important in applications such as humanoid robotics, where robots are designed to interact with humans in social and service settings. Meet Adran, a robotic head with as much as 22 custom actuators, and see how human-like (never mind creepy) its movements are:

The robotic head contains several types of actuators such as servomotors, linear actuators, and pneumatic or hydraulic actuators. These actuators provide movement and control to the robotic head, enabling it to perform specific actions.

The servomotors in the head enable the robot to move its head and neck in different directions, providing it with a wider range of motion. Servomotors can operate at high speeds, with some models capable of speeds up to 7,000 rpm. High-speed servomotors allow efficient detection of objects and hazards. They help robots react quickly and move accurately, essential for detection and human interaction.

Linear actuators are used to move the robot’s eyelids, eyebrows, and other facial features, enabling it to express emotions effectively. Pneumatic or hydraulic actuators, on the other hand, provide strength and support to the robot’s head. This helps the robot to move its head without facing any resistance from its environment.

3. Electronics

electronics board

In the field of robotics, the electronic components housed within the robotic head are critical to the functionality of the machine. Among these components are microcontrollers, processors, and embedded systems, which enable the robot to move and carry out tasks with precision.

Microcontrollers play a vital role in processing data from the robot’s sensors and actuators. This allows making of informed decisions based on the information gathered from its environment. One microcontroller might be responsible for controlling the movement of the head and neck, while another controls the facial expressions. Also, Microcontrollers in a robotic head may communicate with other microcontrollers through protocols such as I2C, SPI, or UART. Arduino Uno Rev3, for example, is a $17 microcontroller board, great for robotic head, with I2C and SPI support. Its 32 KB flash memory can store a large amount of data, particularly useful for storing and executing complex algorithms.

Embedded systems within the head are crucial in enabling the robot to communicate with external systems and other robots, facilitating human-robot interaction, and providing the robot with the necessary data to make informed decisions. For example: motor controllers, embedded software, and robotic vision systems.

4. Design

robot head structure

The design of the robotic head is essential in providing the robot with strength and stability. Typically made from lightweight and durable materials like aluminum or carbon fiber, the structure includes joints and links that allow the robot to move in various directions. Structural components like shock absorbers and dampers are also included in the head. You know, for protection from shock damage caused by sudden movements, and to reduce noise generated by its actuators.

Robot head design

In addition to providing strength and stability, the design of the robotic head also plays an important role in determining the overall appearance of the robot. Engineers and designers often work closely together to create a head that is not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing. Furthermore, the structural design of the robotic head can affect its power consumption and overall performance. For example, the head’s weight and shape can impact the robot’s balance and mobility.

5. Programming

Unless you are building if as “dummy”, programming is a key factor in building a robotic head. If you don’t have any experience with programming, you will have to hire someone to do it for you. This is not only costly, but time-consuming as well. It’s also important to make sure the robot is designed correctly. If it’s not, it can lead to a malfunction or even an accident. Here’s how the programming works: the robot head receives input from sensors and then uses that input to determine the best course of action. It then sends a signal to the actuators, which activate the robot’s motor and other components. And here is an example of programming a robotic head in C++:

#include <iostream> 
#include <stdio.h> 
#include <string.h> 

// defining the sensors, actuators and motors 
int sensorData[4]; 
int actuatorData[4]; 
int motorData[4]; 

int main () 
	// acquiring sensor data 
	for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++) 
		sensorData[i] = getSensorData(); 
	// analyzing the data 
	for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++) 
		if (sensorData[i] > 0) 
			// if sensor data is positive 
			actuatorData[i] = 1; 
			// if sensor data is negative 
			actuatorData[i] = 0; 
	// sending signals to the motors 
	for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++) 
		motorData[i] = setMotorData(actuatorData[i]); 
	// activating the motors 
	for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++) 
	return 0; 

The above code is the basic framework for programming a robotic head. Of course, the code has to be tailored to the particular robot, so the final program should be much more complex.

programming a robo head

Can anyone create a robotic head?

After looking at Ameca and Adran, it’s only normal to ask yourself if you can create a robotic head. Let’s say you have the right materials: all the sensors, actuators, and electronic materials, and hired a great robotics engineer for structure. Can you make a robotic head with these?

The answer is yes, you can create a robotic head with the right components. To do so, do need to understand the four components and how they work together. Still, it’s not an easy process, especially if you don’t have any experience with robotics. Some obstacles you might face include designing the circuitry, programming the robot, and making sure all the components are compatible. . Compatibility here means that all the hardware and software should be able to communicate with each other. And not only that, but you need to make sure the robot head will function properly when built. And… yeah, you also need to consider the cost of materials and labor. In general, it will cost at least $1,000 to build a simple robotic head.

But of course, you won’t be able to build one the level of Adran; it requires sophisticated and expensive materials, programming, and engineering, and years of effort and expenses (not feasible for an individual/small group).


So, as you see, head is a crucial part of robotics, despite not being the prominent central point. There are many functions and devices which have to be placed on a robotic head, fitting nowhere else. Creating human-like looking robots is not the first thing current timeline of AI development driven by generative deep learning is asking for. But after human-like movements, gestures and expressions become daily reality, making robotic head look more and more like a human one, is inevitable. And all components of robotic head, from facial parts to sensors, play important role in that.

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