Human Robot Get­ting Closer

Cat­e­gory: TechTalk
Pub­lished: Mon­day, 08 Decem­ber 2014 23:15
Writ­ten by akoben adinkrahene
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Human Robot Get­ting Closer: iCub Robot Must Learn from Its Experiences

Sep. 27, 2013 — Remem­ber Asimo? Child play, this robot feels, sees and, in par­tic­u­lar, thinks and learns like us. It still seems like sci­ence fic­tion, but if it’s up to Uni­ver­sity of Twente (UT) researcher Frank van der Velde, it won’t be. In his work he wants to imple­ment the cog­ni­tive process of the human brain in robots. The research should lead to the arrival of the lat­est ver­sion of the iCub robot in Twente. This human robot (humanoid) blurs the bound­aries between robot and human.

Decades of sci­en­tific research into cog­ni­tive psy­chol­ogy and the brain have given us knowl­edge about lan­guage, mem­ory, motor skills and per­cep­tion. We can now use that knowl­edge in robots, but Frank van der Velde’s research goes even fur­ther. “The appli­ca­tion of cog­ni­tion in tech­ni­cal sys­tems should also mean that the robot learns from its expe­ri­ences and the actions it per­forms. A sim­ple exam­ple: a robot that spills too much when pour­ing a cup of cof­fee can then learn how it should be done.”

Pos­si­ble first iCub in the Netherlands

The arrival of the iCub robot at the Uni­ver­sity of Twente should sig­nify the next step in this research. Van der Velde sub­mit­ted an appli­ca­tion together with other UT researchers Ste­fano Strami­gi­oli, Vanessa Evers, Dirk Heylen and Richard van Wezel, all active in the robot­ics and cog­ni­tive research. At the moment, twenty Euro­pean lab­o­ra­to­ries have an iCub, which was devel­oped in Italy (thanks to a Euro­pean FP7 grant for the IIT). The Nether­lands is still miss­ing from the list. More­over, a newer ver­sion is cur­rently being devel­oped, with for exam­ple hap­tic sen­sors. In Feb­ru­ary it will be announced whether the robot­ics club will actu­ally bring the lat­est iCub to the UT. The robot costs a quar­ter of a mil­lion Euros and NWO (Nether­lands Organ­i­sa­tion for Sci­en­tific Research) will reim­burse 75% of the costs. Then the TNO (Nether­lands Organ­i­sa­tion for Applied Sci­en­tific Research) and the uni­ver­si­ties of Gronin­gen, Nijmegen, Delft and Eind­hoven can also make use of it. Within the UT, the iCub can be deployed in dif­fer­ent lab­o­ra­to­ries thanks to a spe­cial trans­port system.

Robot guide dog

The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less, accord­ing to Van der Velde. “The new iCub has a skin and fin­gers that have a much bet­ter sense of touch and can feel strength. That makes inter­ac­tion with humans much more nat­ural. We want to ensure that this robot con­tin­ues to learn and under­stands how peo­ple func­tion. This research ensures, for exam­ple, that robots actu­ally gather knowl­edge by focus­ing on cer­tain objects or per­sons. In areas of appli­ca­tion like health­care and nurs­ing, such robots can play an impor­tant role. A good exam­ple would be that in ten years’ time you see a blind per­son walk­ing with a robot guide dog.”

Nano-​neural circuits

A recent line of research that is in line with this pro­file is the devel­op­ment of elec­tronic cir­cuits that resem­ble a web of neu­rons in the human brain. Con­tacts have already been made to start this research in Twente. In the iCub robot, this can for exam­ple be used for the robot’s visual per­cep­tion. This requires a lot of rel­a­tively sim­ple oper­a­tions that must all be per­formed in par­al­lel. This takes a lot of time and energy in the cur­rent sys­tems. With elec­tronic cir­cuits in the form of a web of nerve cells this is much easier.

These con­nec­tions are only pos­si­ble at the nanoscale, that is to say the scale at which the mate­r­ial is only a few atoms thick. In com­bi­na­tion with the iCub robot, it can be inves­ti­gated how the expe­ri­ences of the robot are recorded in such mate­ri­als and how the robot is con­trolled by nano-​neural cir­cuitry. The bot­tle­neck of the exist­ing tech­ni­cal sys­tems is often the energy con­sump­tion and the size. The lim­its of Moore’s Law, the propo­si­tion that the num­ber of tran­sis­tors in a cir­cuit dou­bles every two years through tech­no­log­i­cal advances, are reached. In this area we are there­fore also on the verge of many new applications.”

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