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iCub: Scientists Developing Robot Capable Of Learning

September 7, 2009

Scientists are developing a new robot called iCub that may eventually learn how to adapt its behavior to changing circumstances, offering new insights into the development of human consciousness, Reuters reported.

Laboratories across Europe are working on six versions of iCub, where scientists are painstakingly tweaking its electronic brain to make it capable of learning.

Research director Peter Ford Dominey said their goal is to develop the robots to cooperate, understand commands and be able to get aligned with them and work together.

Standing 3.2 feet high, the robots have an articulated trunk, arms and legs made up of intricate electronic circuits, and a white face with the hint of a nose and big round eyes that can see and follow moving objects.

“Shall we play the old game or play a new one?” iCub asked Dominey during a recent experiment at a laboratory in Lyon, in southeastern France.

During the game, one person picked up a box, revealing a toy that was placed underneath. Then another person picked up the toy, before putting it down again. The first person then put the box back down, on top of the toy.

iCub was able to join in the fun after having watched two humans perform this action.

Dominey, who receives European Union funding for his work with iCub, said the robot is demonstrating that it can change roles and it can play the role of either the first person in the interaction or the second.

These simple developments are at the cutting edge of robotics and of clear interest to science.

Dominey, whose background is in computational neuroscience, believes the robots will be a huge tool for analytical philosophy and philosophy of mind.

“Is perception consciousness? The ability to understand that somebody has a goal, is that consciousness?” he asked.

“We will be able to ask these kinds of questions with much more precision because we can have a test bed, this robot, or zombie, that we can use to implement things,” he said.

However, scientists also hope to develop iCub so that it can have practical applications such as using it in hospitals to help patients in need of physiotherapy by playing games with them.

Eventually, iCub could gain enough autonomy to help around the house, making its own assessments of needs.

“The goal is that the robot can become like a helper … just like a polite apprentice visitor would come into your house and begin to help you. Maybe in the next decade we will begin to see this kind of thing,” said Dominey.

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