April 6, 2009

Child Robot Capable Of Learning

Japanese researchers have developed a "Child-robot with a Biomimetic Body," or CB2, that can develop social skills by interacting with humans.

The bald, child-like robot follows movements with its black eyes, and mimics breathing by letting its shoulders rise and fall in rhythm.

The creature is one of Japan's most sophisticated robots. The four foot, four inch machine is designed to learn like a human infant.

"Babies and infants have very, very limited programs. But they have room to learn more," Minoru Asada of Osaka University told AFP.

Asada and his team are trying to teach the android to evaluate its mother's facial expressions by clustering them into categories, such as happiness or sadness.

The project, which has brought together robotics engineers, psychologists, and brain specialists, is funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

The CB2 is also capable of feeling human touch, due to its 197 film-like pressure sensors.

The robot is able to record facial expressions using its eye-cameras, and can match those expressions with physical sensations says Asada.

According to the professor, his team has made much progress since unveiling the CB2 in 2007.

In two years, the CB2 has taught itself how to walk, and can move quite smoothly by using its 51 pressure-driven "muscles."

Asada expects a "robo species" to emerge in the coming decades, with capabilities somewhere between a human and a chimpanzee.

He hopes to see a robotic soccer team play the human World Cup champions by 2050.

More than a decade ago, Honda stunned the world with its walking P2 robot.

Since then, robotics have come a long way.

Japan has unveiled numerous robots that are capable of different skills including a talking receptionist, a security guard, and a primary school teacher.

Toshiba is creating a new domestic helper called the AppriAttenda, which moves on wheels and can perform easy tasks like fetching objects from the refrigerator.

"We aim to make a robot that elderly people can count on when living alone," said Takashi Yoshimi of Toshiba.

Last month, Japanese researchers unveiled the HRP-4C, a robotic fashion model.

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, who designed the HRP-4C, plan to sell the robots for $200,000 a piece.

Within the next decade, thousands of humanoids could be working alongside humans, says Fumio Miyazaki, professor at Osaka University.

There is "no need for a major technical breakthrough" if the world is ready for a robot secretary, he added.

Kokoro, a subsidiary company of Hello Kitty maker Sanrio, has already produced life-size, talking humanoids.

"Robots have hearts," said Yuko Yokota of Kokoro.

"They don't look human unless we put souls in them," he added.

Public opinion in the West may not be as open to robots as Japanese culture, due to dark science fictions movies such as "Bladerunner."

"Japanese people have a friendly image towards robots," said Toshiba's Yoshimi.

Asada believes Japan's indigenous animistic belief system has also prepared people to accept robots.

"Everything has a mind -- the mind of the lamp, the mind of the chair, the soul of the desk," he said.

"Therefore the machines should have their mind too. If we proceed in this study, machines may have something like a human mind or 'robo-mind'," he added.


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