Financed by the European Union’s cognition unit (€8.5m) iCub is a robot with an impressive AI. It has has sophisticated motor skills, which include the ability to grasp and manipulate objects. However, unlike other “programmed” robots, iCub acquires its skills naturally, using its body to sense, then gbather information and then explore the world. This is of course similar to the way a two-year-old baby learns and interracts with the environment around it. That may be why iCub has a baby-like face.
iCub is not a single entitiy anymore; a creche of 25 iCubs have been rolled out to centres across Europe, the US and Japan who are collaborating in the programme. Most specialise in some aspect of AI/robotics, such as Dominey’s facility in Lyon, where they are concentrating on iCub’s ability to interact with humans on shared tasks through language and action. Others focus on the more practical side of manipulation of objects.
All the various parts of this series of ambitious projects are connected by using how a baby/child learns as he or she grows and advances . By 18 months, a human can already understand the gesture to pick up a pencil. This is not about language (at least not to begin with). Young children are born equipped to explore their environment and interact and co-operate with their parents before they can speak or understand speech. These social developmental drives are built into iCub’s operating system. Then, it’s simply a question of interacting with iCub and letting its own body and sensors guide it. Using a bow and arrow? No problem!
Through repetitive play, one team has taught iCub to distinguish a stuffed toy octopus from a purple car, this despite iCub never having seen the objects before. New gestures are learned by grasping iCub’s arm and rotating it in a certain way. These are then recorded in its autobiographical memory. Consequently next time it can make the gesture without being prompted. In the same way iCub can be taught new words and concepts, by through interacting with its human tutor, much in a way a baby interracts with its mother during play.
Recent developments include a touch-sensitive skin to enhance iCub’s ability to gauge when it is getting too close to an object and is in danger of hitting it. This is onviously a prerequisite for persuading people that it is safe to interact with robots at close quarters!
Watch out for more news about iCub as it learns and grows- perhaps into an iWolf?