SCIENTISTS in Edinburgh are working on the next stage of artificial intelligence by teaching a robot how to express human emotion via facial expressions.
The iCub has been recently acquired by the robotics laboratory at Heriot-Watt university, and is already proving something of a star attraction with students.
Dr Katrin S Lohan, Deputy Director of the Robotics Laboratory, said: “There has been a lot of interest in robotics recently, it’s become the sort of in thing.
“We’re actually struggling to get everyone in.”
The lab currently has ten PhD and eight Masters students, including PhD student Ingo Keller who gave the demonstration, and the iCub is just one of the platforms they are working with.
“We have various topics focused with robotics. In the robotics lab mainly we do human robot interaction, where the iCub head is used. Then we have topics on swarm robotics and bio-inspired robotics where we mainly use the small robots with different robot platforms.”
The iCub was bought with a joint grant to Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh universities. It is one of the most advanced humanoid robots available.
But what is the point of the iCub, especially as almost every smart phone already has voice recognition technology.
Dr Lohan said: “If you think about a very crowded environment, for example, when there are a lot of people talking, lots of noise, what humans do to understand what someone in the distance is saying to us is by looking at the mouth and trying to lip read in a sense.
“Our version has a cotton skin mask, which is to give the robot the capability to not only speak but also to show mouth movement, with the aim that we can generate a more natural interaction.
“We are working on developing these types of features to make it easier to communicate with the robot.”
The robot is built in the dimensions of a small child, and other laboratories across the world are working on naturalising movement of the upper torso, while trying to build a sustainable bottom half which can support the robot’s weight. This constantly changing humaniod-robot is what Dr Lohan says makes it the perfect teaching tool.
“The platform is still under development so if a researcher finds a new way or develops a new sensor like a new camera which has better facial recognition capabilities right out of the box, then it is very easy just to plug the new sensor into the robots.
“It is a platform which is meant to be a developing platform. That means that the robot is supposed to grow up over time by a combination of learning and programming. You can plug in or develop new sensors, which are very easy to adjust. So the idea is that over the different production lines the robot would grow more capable. With many different institutions working on it across the world, the theory is that this will speed up the process, rather than if it was just us working on it.”