Brussels, 07 Jan 2005
As it becomes increasingly clear that mental processes are profoundly shaped by the physical structure of the body and by its interaction with the environment, so the study of cognition and intelligence is becoming more and more dependent on the use of physical bodies and ultimately on the use of humanoid robots.
The European Commission is therefore funding a new project, RobotCub, aimed at moving this research agenda forward by creating a humanoid platform to help study embodied cognition further.
Funded under the Information Society Technologies (IST) priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), RobotCub brings together 11 European research centres, two research centres in the US and three in Japan for a five year period. The partners are either specialised in robotics, neuroscience or developmental psychology.
RobotCub is the follow-up to another successful IST project, the Mirror project, designed to advance understanding of how humans recognise and imitate gestures by building an artificial system able to communicate through body gestures.
The Mirror project developed an artefact, composed of a binocular head, a torso and an anthropomorphic arm with a hand capable of learning how to recognise and perform actions such as pointing, scratching a body part or bringing food to the mouth. The experiment showed that learning precedes understanding and enabled the project partners to uncover many elements of a biologically-compatible architecture that can be replicated in robots.
When the Mirror project finished, however, the integration of the humanoid robot was not fully complete. RobotCub will therefore continue the scientific work of the Mirror project.
As the consortium explains, RobotCub has two goals. The first is 'to create an open and freely-available humanoid platform for research in embodied cognition'. The second aim is 'to advance out understanding of several key issues of cognition by exploiting this platform in the study of cognitive development. The scientific objective of RobotCub is, therefore, to jointly design the mindware and the hardware of a humanoid platform to be used to investigate human cognition and human-machine interaction,' adds the consortium. The platform is called CUB or Cognitive Universal Body.
'The design of the robot will be aimed at maximising the number of degrees of freedom of the upper part of the body (head, torso, arms, and hands). The lower body (legs) will be designed to support crawling on four legs and sitting on the ground in a stable position with smooth autonomous transition from crawling to sitting,' explains project coordinator Giulio Sandini, from the University of Genova in Italy. 'This will allow the robot to explore the environment and to grasp and manipulate objects on the floor. Functionally, the system will be able to coordinate the movement of the eyes and hands, grasp and manipulate lightweight objects of reasonable size and appearance, crawl on four legs and sit.'