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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Wired Science: Robots, a Child’s Play

    Prosthetics are all the rage these days. Manipulating robotics to circumvent the motor problems or to simply play video games is overtaking some of the most nuanced biological discoveries. A European Union funded team, which goes by the name of RobotCub, is attempting evolve robotic technology by treating it like a child’s play.

    The team’s joint effort has managed to produce the modularly-designed robot, iCub. About the size of a three-year-old child, they are dexterous with their hands and demonstrate full articulation with their heads and eyes. They can hear and touch, while managing to crawl on all fours or even sit upright. The team behind iCub wants to develop the robot’s cognition by mimicking the action of others, which is how young children learn.

    Six iCubs have been now produced and will be sent to each of six different European laboratories.

    The projects proposed several interesting goals before they were selected. One of these, in particular, has been proposed by the Imperial College of London and will study “mirror neurons” for their translation into a digital application. Mirror neurons, still a recently discovered phenomenon, trigger old memories when human try to understand others’ physical actions.

    On the other hand, a team at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, will be studying the iCub’s cognitive architecture. Another team at the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris will investigate the dynamics needed for full body control in the iCub.

    Scientists at the Technical University of Munich will be working on developing iCub’s manipulation skills. A team at the University of Lyons will study internal simulation techniques. These entail the intense activity in the brain when it plans to perform an action or attempts to understand someone else’s actions.

    The sixth team, at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, will be concentrating its work on language acquisition and iCub’s ability to connect objects to verbal utterances.

    In relation to the selection of the six teams, Giorgio Metta of the University of Genoa, was quoted as saying that “The six winners had to show they could really use and maintain the robot, and secondly the project had to exploit the capabilities of the robot. Looking at the proposals from the winners, it was clear that if we gave them a robot we would get something in return.”

    The hardware and software of iCub is not expected to change for at least the next 18 months. In fact, by October of this year, the researchers plan to put out a robot capable of analyzing its surrounding information and feel “senses.” This way, iCub will be able to gain some crude grasping behavior, including reaching outwards and closing its fingers around a given object. The researchers plan to create 15 to 20 more iCubs once the first six are underway.

    The project is unique in not just its conception, but also in the way that it is being carried. Having more than one team of researchers working on it, allows for better layering of knowledge and better information sharing.

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