Science Museum throws Robotville parade

Science Museum throws Robotville parade

Summary: Drawn from projects around Europe, the 20 robots on show at the museum have been created to help with research into human-machine interaction, covering work with autistic children

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Kaspar the robot

    Kaspar, pictured above, has been developed for research into the effect of facial expressions, gestures and imitation in human-robot interaction. Recently, he has been used to study whether robots can teach social interaction skills to children with autism, or be used in therapy with them.

    The robot was created by the school of computer science at Hertfordshire University. He is part of the European Commission-funded European RobotCub project, which provides an open-source platform for building robots to help researchers study child development and cognition.

    "Our aim is to study what types of human-robot interactions a minimal set of expressive robot features can afford. The goal is not perfect realism, but optimal realism for rich interaction," the Adaptive Systems Research Group at the university said on the Kaspar project page.

    Kaspar's face is a silicone rubber mask, stretched over an aluminium frame, with a mouth that can open and smile. He has eight degrees of freedom of movement in the head and neck, with six degrees in the arms and hands. Video cameras are used for the eyes, which have two degrees of freedom.

    Photo credit: Ben Woods 

  • iCub learning robot

    Like Kaspar, iCub (pictured) takes his cues from children. In this case, however, the idea is to look at techniques for learning in robots.

    iCub starts life with basic pre-programmed knowledge, such as how to move, detect motion and recognise simple voice commands. He can also recognise unnamed 'blobs'. Building on this, researchers can teach iCub what certain items are — in the case of the picture above, an octopus and a block. They can then direct him to distinguish between items and to pick up specific objects. In doing this, he learns about his own abilities and how to interact with the world around him.

    As iCub is a main product of RobotCub, his software is open source and will run on either Windows or Linux systems. An emulator is available to download from the project home page, Lorenzo Natale, senior researcher at the Italian Institute of Technology, which developed this iCub, told ZDNet UK. More than 20 copies of the robot have been built to date, he noted.

    Photo credit: Ben Woods

  • Dora the explorer robot

    Dora the Explorer (above) was developed by the University of Birmingham. According to Nick Hawes, a lecturer in intelligent robotics at the university's school of computer science, she is a "curious" robot.

    Unlike other robots, Dora is designed to fill in gaps in her own knowledge through exploration of her surroundings. She does this in a logical way, based on weighing the probability that her actions will yield the correct answer for the least 'cost'.

    While Dora does have some 'common sense' understanding mined from Google and manually programmed, she can only respond to prompts for specific objects. For example, she can understand and carry out the command "Bring me the Frosties" if she has been taught what Frosties are, Hawes said. However, she would not understand the command, "Bring me the cereal".

    Also, if Dora is asked to retrieve the Frosties, she would know the most likely place to find the box is the kitchen and would look there first, rather than in the lounge or bedroom.

    Hawes said the University of Birmingham is looking at ways for Dora to be able to mine Google automatically for information. One challenge in this, though, is that information on the internet is not formatted in a standard way, making it harder to be machine-readable, he said.

    Photo credit: Ben Woods 

Topic: After Hours

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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