Mon, Apr 06, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Robo-kid develops social skills

ASTRO BOY The child-like robot can record emotional expressions and cluster them. The team leader hopes the CB2 will learn to talk in about two years

AFP , SUITA, JAPAN

The “Child-robot with Biomimetic Body” or CB2 sits in a laboratory at Osaka University on March 10. The CB2 is equipped with 51 air actuators, 5 motors and 197 tactile sensors under soft silicone skin on its child-sized body, measuring 130cm tall and weighing 33kg.

PHOTO: AFP

A bald, child-like creature dangles its legs from a chair as its shoulders rise and fall with rhythmic breathing and its black eyes follow movements across the room.

It’s not human — but it is paying attention.

Below the soft silicon skin of one of Japan’s most sophisticated robots, processors record and evaluate information. The 130cm humanoid is designed to learn just like a human infant.

The creators of the Child-robot with Biomimetic Body, or CB2, say it’s slowly developing social skills by interacting with humans and watching their facial expressions, mimicking a mother-baby relationship.

“Babies and infants have very, very limited programs. But they have room to learn more,” said Osaka University professor Minoru Asada, as his team’s 33kg invention kept its eyes glued to him.

The team is trying to teach the pint-sized android to think like a baby who evaluates its mother’s countless facial expressions and “clusters” them into basic categories, such as happiness and sadness.

Asada’s project brings together robotics engineers, brain specialists, psychologists and other experts, and is supported by the state-funded Japan Science and Technology Agency.

With 197 film-like pressure sensors under its light gray rubbery skin, CB2 can also recognize human touch, such as stroking of its head.

The robot can record emotional expressions using eye-cameras, then memorize and match them with physical sensations and cluster them on its circuit boards, Asada said.

The professor, also a member of the Japanese Society of Baby Science, said his team has made progress on other fronts since first presenting CB2 to the world in 2007.

In the two years since then, he said, CB2 has taught itself how to walk with the aid of a human and can now move its body through a room quite smoothly, using 51 “muscles” driven by air pressure.

In coming decades, Asada expects science will come up with a “robo species” that has learning abilities somewhere between those of a human and other primate species such as the chimpanzee.

And he hopes that this little CB2 may lead the way into this brave new world, with the goal of having the robo-kid speaking in basic sentences within about two years, matching the intelligence of a two-year-old child.

By 2050, Asada wants a robotic team of football players to be able take on the human World Cup champions — and win.

Welcome to the cutting edge of robotics and artificial intelligence.

More than a decade since automaker Honda stunned the world with the walking humanoid P2, a forerunner to the popular ASIMO, robotics has come a long way.

Researchers across Japan have unveiled increasingly sophisticated robots with different functions — including a talking office receptionist, a security guard and even a primary school teacher.

Electronics giant Toshiba is developing a new model of domestic helper, AppriAttenda, which moves on wheels and can fetch containers from a refrigerator with its two arms — a potentially lucrative invention in fast-aging Japan.

“We aim to make a robot that elderly people can count on when living alone,” said Takashi Yoshimi, a senior research scientist at a Toshiba laboratory in Kawasaki city south of Tokyo.

Last month also saw the debut of Japan’s first robotic fashion model, cybernetic human HRP-4C, which can strut a catwalk, smile and pout thanks to 42 motion motors programmed to mimic flesh-and-blood models.

This story has been viewed 3406 times.
TOP top