iCub - the "Baby Robot"

Have you heard of the iCub? It is a one-meter high android originally developed by the Europe-based RobotCub Consortium. This robot strongly resembles a human baby or toddler, and like a real child it has the ability to learn new behaviors and improve its cognitive abilities. In fact, the "Cub" in its name is short for Cognitive Universal Body.

Around the world, many researchers are running experimental projects to see if they can get the iCub to gain artificial intelligence by means of interacting with the world much as a three-year-old human child would.

Recently, at the 2011 IROS Expo in San Francisco, the robot demonstrated a learned ability to crawl using an optic marker on the floor to guide it. While the robot can crawl, it does so much more slowly than a baby.

At the University of Plymouth in Devon, a team of researchers has been trying to teach the little android how to talk. The team is made up of robotics experts as well as language development specialists. The researchers hope that their project will lead to the development of a future generation of robots that will be able to learn human speech and communicate effectively with people.

The four-year project involves getting the the robot to learn how to successfully perform simple tasks, such as placing objects of different shapes into the correct holes in a container, arranging nested cups in the proper serial order, and stacking a set of wooden blocks. The robot is also being trained to learn the names of objects and actions so that it will be able to comprehend simple phrases such as "robot puts stick on cube."

Team member Angelo Cangelosi, a professor in artificial intelligence, told BBC News that the research will help scientists find their way toward determining the technological requirements for the design of artificial beings capable of a human-like level of behavior, cognition, and communication.

In the past, these robots have been successfully taught a number of simple behaviors. The "baby robot" has been trained in the use of facial expressions, allowing it to express a range of emotions. It has learned how to use its hands to properly grasp and manipulate small objects, including balls and plastic bottles.

The iCub has also learned how to exert judicious force control, making use of proximal force and torque sensors to provide feedback. One robot has even been taught the skill of archery, and can shoot an arrow right at the center of a bullseye target.