Brussels, 19 Nov 2004
In the cavernous surroundings of the exhibition hall of the Netherlands Congress Centre, well over a hundred collaborative EU and national technology projects were on show during the IST 2004 event in The Hague from 15 to 17 November.
CORDIS News visited a number of the displays to find out more about the current state of the art in information society technologies (IST) research, and to discover what the researchers had gained from their presence in the Netherlands.
One of the more curious sights in the exhibition space was that of researchers talking to, and being followed around by, a pair of friendly robots. The two 'BIRONs', as the robots are actually known, were developed by researchers at Bielefeld University in Germany as part of the IST Integrated Project (IP), COGNIRON.
The overall objective of the COGNIRON project is to study the perceptual, representational, reasoning and learning capabilities of robot companions in human environments. The team from Bielefeld University have developed BIRON in order to contribute a better understanding of robot-human interaction to the project.
'If you take BIRON to your house and give it a 'home tour' - where it follows you around and listens to you telling it where things are - it will learn to get around and find things,' explained Shuyin Li, a PhD student working on the project. In order to achieve this, the team has developed a robot that possesses a camera, speakers, microphones, laser range finders, face recognition software and a dialogue system.
The result is a robot that will search for human faces or listen for their greeting, and then follow an individual around and learn to associate the objects they are shown with the description they are given. 'In future, it should be possible for BIRON to learn where you keep your beers, and to go and bring you one when you ask,' added Ms Li. She explained that other teams within the COGNIRON project are focusing on capabilities such as navigation, emotional awareness, and detection and understanding of human activity, and the expected final result will be a robot companion that interacts in a human manor.
The project's coordinator, Jannik Fritsch, told CORDIS News: 'To achieve our final goal, the COGNIRON project requires many different areas of expertise, and without bringing these various competences together in an Integrated Project it would have been impossible. It is no trivial task to administer such a project, however, and this large scale cooperation is a new experience for some of the partners with no prior experience of EU funded projects.'
Another project generating a lot of interest at the conference was the virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) initiative. Located within the Dutch Pavilion of the exhibition, this is a nationally funded project which, according to the organisers, displays synergies with the IST activities being carried out at EU level. The team of researchers from Delft University was inviting delegates to sit in a modified passenger aircraft seat and wear a virtual reality headset that recreated the sights, sounds and vibrations of a commercial plane flight.
As Iulia Dobai, a student working on the project, explained to CORDIS News: 'If you suffer from a phobia, the normal therapeutic treatment involves exposure to that fear. To overcome a fear of flying, the therapist would normally accompany you on several real flights, but this entails a high cost.'
Instead of 'in vivo' therapy, therefore, the VRET project uses virtual reality to expose people to their fear of flying - a far cheaper option in the long run where there are sufficient numbers of patients with the same phobia. 'We've had a lot of people coming to try it during the conference, and they all say it seems realistic, except for some who miss the G-force that you experience in real flight,' Ms Dobai explained.
The system has already been tested on 60 real patients in Amsterdam, and although the final results will not be available until next spring, unofficially they are said to be encouraging. As one conference participant left the vibrating seat and removed his headset, he told CORDIS News: 'It was very interesting, but what I really wanted to see were the virtual stewardesses!'
The last project on the tour was the most musical in the exhibition. Coordinated by Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, the SIMAC project focuses on machine learning and audio processing technology to develop a system for the automated management of online audio content. As the University's Pedro Cano explains: 'At the moment, audio content management relies on human labelling of the music - such as artist, song title and genre - which is very labour intensive and prone to error. Instead, SIMAC uses automatically extracted, musically meaningful meta data to describe the content, such as instrumentation, vocal characteristics, tonality, rhythm structure and genre probability.'
Such a system could prove extremely useful for navigating the increasing amount of home-produced music being shared on the Internet, and the team also believes that the system could be specifically tuned to the needs of particular clients such as record companies.
'We've found our participation here very useful,' said project coordinator Xavier Serra. 'We're the only music related project here, so a lot of people have approached us to tap into our music and audio related expertise.' Mr Serra explained why he enjoys working on a specific targeted research project such as SIMAC: 'I like STREPs very much - the flexibility of financial issues and the way in which we have been able to structure the project works very well. I think trying to develop SIMAC as part of an Integrated Project would have been a nightmare,' he concluded.
For further information, please consult the following web addresses: