Umamimi Robotic Horse Ears

Umamimi is an exploratory 'mini project' lead by EASE's Dr Steve North, as part of his research into Computational Anthrozoology.

The intention is to unpack what it means to be a horse, using expressive ears to communicate both intention and emotion.

The name is inspired by the Japanese tradition called ‘Kemonomimi’ (animal eared), which is found in both anime and manga.

馬 = horse (uma)

耳 = ear (mimi)

馬耳 = umamimi

This project reflects on the making of robotic horse ears, living amongst horses using the ears, interspecies communication, becoming 'horse' and even the nature of the quantitative studies that might be conducted to evaluate this artefact.

Umamimi is also inspired by the machines developed for animatronic and puppetry performances.

F‌igure: The Umamimi robotic horse ears - with (right) and without cover (left)

Built on a metal framework, with black faux fur covering, two micro servo motors each move an ear independently, in incremental steps, through a maximum range of 180 degrees. An ATmega32u4 processor has been programmed in the Arduino language (a set of C/C++ functions). When the user makes small changes in the inclination of her head, Umamimi’s built-in accelerometer sends these to the software, which responds with programmed (and fully customisable) ear movements: fully forward, fully back, either ear turned outward. When in neutral (meaning that the accelerometer and therefore the device is level), a range of random default ear flicks and movements have been specified.

Umamimi’s ear movements are fully customisable via software programming. Subtleties of ear movement expression may be modelled, to reflect the varying personalities found in individual horses. Different profiles may be developed, with variations in the speed, range, frequency (of events) and degree of synchronisation displayed in the ear movements.


F‌igure: The user inclines their head slightly backwards and Umamimi's accelerometer responds with the programmed ear movement 'fully back'


North, S. 2019. Imaginary studies: a science fiction autoethnography concerning the design, implementation and evaluation of a fictional quantitative study to evaluate the umamimi robotic horse ears. In Proceedings of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (CHI’19 Extended Abstracts) (Glasgow, Scotland UK. 4-9 May 2019). ACM. New York, NY, USA. 10. or

North, S. 2018. Umamimi robotic horse ears – using configurable code profiles to replicate individuality in equine animatronics. In Proceedings of the ACI2018 The Fifth International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. 4-6 December 2018). ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). New York, NY, USA. Available from:

North, S. 2018. Umamimi: the wind of heaven blows between the gentle flicks of my robotic horse ears. In Proceedings of the 'Horses, Moving' conference (Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, Norway. 25-27 September 2018).

North, S. 2018. A computational anthrozoology perspective on horse-machine interaction: explored through the umamimi robotic horse ears. In Proceedings of the Animal Machines / Machine Animals workshop, organised by The British Animal Studies Network and the Life Geographies Group (The University of Exeter, Devon, UK. 2-3 November 2018).

North, S. 2018. Software Program: Umamimi robotic horse ears v3.0. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1400801. Available from: and

North, S. 2017. Salient features, combined detectors and image flipping: an approach to Haar cascades for recognising horses and other complex, deformable objects.  The Fourth International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction, 21-23 November 2017 Milton Keynes, UK. New York, NY, USA.: ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). Available from: