Robotville Festival

Robotville Festival at the London Science Museum

The Robotville Festival at the London Science Museum recently showcased over 20 human designed robots that were developed in European research laboratories.

The Robotville Festival took place from December 1 to 4, 2011 at the South Kensington based exhibition space. The event centered on robots that have been specifically designed to mimic human anatomy, movement, behavior, and learning. These included EMYS (EMotive headY System), an abstract-looking robot head that can display emotions using simple facial movements and can also recognize people's facial expressions.

Another exhibitor presented the EcceRobot, which resembles an anatomical model, with a skeletal torso and head that imitate the workings of human bones and muscles. The robotic skeleton achieves movement using a system of motors and elastic cords. Because they can stretch and contract, the cords are capable of behaving in a similar fashion as human musculature.

The head of the EcceRobot design team, Professor Owen Holland of the University of Sussex, noted that the developers were trying to solve the problem of how to build robots that can move easily within a human environment, and figured that the best approach was to construct a robotic body that copied the way a person moves. The professor surmised that we may soon see humanoid robots walking down the street just like regular people.

The iCub also made an appearance at the London Science Museum event. A meter-high robot in the form of a toddler, the iCub has become fairly high profile, through Internet videos and news stories on blogs such as Engadget. At the Robotville event, the baby robot demonstrated its ability to visually track small objects and grasp or handle them with its highly functional hands.

The iCub is an ongoing project to find out whether an artificial humanoid can replicate the process of learning and development, as experienced by a human child. The researchers are trying to get the iCub to learn problem solving behaviors such as inserting shaped objects in the correctly shaped holes in a puzzle box. They are also trying to get the robot to assimilate human language by ‘learning’ to understand simple verbal commands.

Other robots showcased at the museum included: KASPAR, a robot built by University of Hertfordshire researchers to act as a helpmate for autistic children; Dora the Explorer, developed by Birmingham University, which utilizes lasers in searching for lost objects; Couch, a robotic fitness instructor; and Dexmart, a robotic hand so skilled at autonomous movement that it can make a cup of coffee. The London Science Museum show has given us a glimpse at an upcoming future where human designed robots will be a part of our daily lives.