iCub the robot helps scientists understand humans

Mon Sep 7, 2009 10:18am EDT
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By Lucien Libert

LYON, France (Reuters) - Robots that can make their own decisions have so far been confined to science fiction movies, but a child-sized figure with big eyes and a white face is trying hard to turn fiction into reality.

Its name is iCub and scientists are hoping it will learn how to adapt its behavior to changing circumstances, offering new insights into the development of human consciousness.

Six versions of iCub exist in laboratories across Europe, where scientists are painstakingly tweaking its electronic brain to make it capable of learning, just like a human child.

"Our goal is to really understand something that is very human: the ability to cooperate, to understand what somebody else wants us to do, to be able to get aligned with them and work together," said research director Peter Ford Dominey.

iCub is about 1 meter (3.2 feet) high, with an articulated trunk, arms and legs made up of intricate electronic circuits. It has a white face with the hint of a nose and big round eyes that can see and follow moving objects.

"Shall we play the old game or play a new one?" iCub asked Dominey during a recent experiment at a laboratory in Lyon, in southeastern France. Its voice was robotic, unsurprisingly, though it did have the intonation of a person asking a question.

The "game" consisted of one person picking up a box, revealing a toy that was placed underneath. Then another person picked up the toy, before putting it down again. Finally, the first person put the box back down, on top of the toy.

Having watched two humans perform this action, iCub was able to join in the fun.   Continued...

<p>ICub robot, a &ldquo;hybrid embodied cognitive system for a humanoid robot" about 1 metre (3.2 feet) high, moves his arms during a demonstration at the INSERM institute in Bron, near Lyon, southeastern France, August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Pratta</p>