Predictive powers: a robot that reads your intention? (w/Video)

Jun 05, 2009
Predictive powers: a robot that reads your intention? (w/Video)

(PhysOrg.com) -- European researchers in robotics, psychology and cognitive sciences have developed a robot that can predict the intentions of its human partner. This ability to anticipate (or question) actions could make human-robot interactions more natural.

The walking, talking, thinking robots of are far removed from the automated machines of today. Even today's most are little more than slaves - programmed to do our bidding.

Many research groups are trying to build robots that could be less like workers and more like companions. But to play this role, they must be able to interact with people in natural ways, and play a pro-active part in joint tasks and decision-making. We need robots that can ask questions, discuss and explore possibilities, assess their companion's ideas and anticipate what their partners might do next.

The EU-funded JAST project brings a multidisciplinary team together to do just this. The project explores ways by which a can anticipate/predict the actions and intentions of a human partner as they work collaboratively on a task.

Who knows best?

You cannot make human-robot interaction more natural unless you understand what 'natural' actually means. But few studies have investigated the that are the basis of joint activity (i.e. where two people are working together to achieve a common goal).

A major element of the JAST project, therefore, was to conduct studies of human-human collaboration. These experiments and observations could feed into the development of more natural robotic behaviour.

The researchers participating in JAST are at the forefront of their discipline and have made some significant discoveries about the cognitive processes involved in joint action and decision-making. Most importantly, they scrutinised the ways in which observation plays an important part in joint activity.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Scientists have already shown that a set of 'mirror neurons' are activated when people observe an activity. These neurons resonate as if they were mimicking the activity; the brain learns about an activity by effectively copying what is going on. In the JAST project, a similar resonance was discovered during joint tasks: people observe their partners and the brain copies their action to try and make sense of it.

In other words, the brain processes the observed actions (and errors, it turns out) as if it is doing them itself. The brain mirrors what the other person is doing either for motor-simulation purposes or to select the most adequate complementary action.

Resonant robotics

The JAST robotics partners have built a system that incorporates this capacity for observation and mirroring (resonance).

“In our experiments the is not observing to learn a task,” explains Wolfram Erlhagen from the University of Minho and one of the project consortium's research partners. “The JAST robots already know the task, but they observe behaviour, map it against the task, and quickly learn to anticipate [partner actions] or spot errors when the partner does not follow the correct or expected procedure.”

The robot was tested in a variety of settings. In one scenario, the robot was the 'teacher' - guiding and collaborating with human partners to build a complicated model toy. In another test, the robot and the human were on equal terms. “Our tests were to see whether the human and robot could coordinate their work,” Erlhagen continues. “Would the robot know what to do next without being told?”

By observing how its human partner grasped a tool or model part, for example, the robot was able to predict how its partner intended to use it. Clues like these helped the robot to anticipate what its partner might need next. “Anticipation permits fluid interaction,” says Erlhagen. “The robot does not have to see the outcome of the action before it is able to select the next item.”

The robots were also programmed to deal with suspected errors and seek clarification when their partners’ intentions were ambiguous. For example, if one piece could be used to build three different structures, the robot had to ask which object its partner had in mind.

From JAST to Jeeves

But how is the JAST system different to other experimental robots?

“Our robot has a neural architecture that mimics the resonance processing that our human studies showed take place during joint actions,” says Erlhagen. “The link between the human psychology, experimentation and the robotics is very close. Joint action has not been addressed by other robotics projects, which may have developed ways to predict motor movements, but not decisions or intentions. JAST deals with prediction at a much higher cognitive level.”

Before robots like this one can be let loose around humans, however, they will have to learn some manners. Humans know how to behave according to the context they are in. This is subtle and would be difficult for a robot to understand.

Nevertheless, by refining this ability to anticipate, it should be possible to produce robots that are proactive in what they do.

Not waiting to be asked, perhaps one day a robot may use the JAST approach to take initiative and ask: “Would you care for a cup of tea?”

More information: www.euprojects-jast.net/

Provided by ICT Results

Explore further: Future US Navy: Robotic sub-hunters, deepsea pods

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

As robots learn to imitate

Dec 22, 2004

Can robots learn to communicate by studying and imitating humans' gestures? That's what MIRROR's researchers aimed to find out by studying how infants and monkeys learn complex acts such as grasping and transferring it to ...

New robot to adopt human thought processes

May 04, 2005

A team of computer scientists at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth have secured a major grant to build a robot that uses the same 'thought processes' used by the human brain.

Robots Detect Behavioral Cues to Follow Humans

Aug 21, 2008

Robots can be ironic. Even though they might not have emotions of their own, they can still detect and respond to humans’ emotions. A recent study has shown that, by picking up on human emotional traits, ...

Robots to help children to form relationships

May 29, 2007

A project which is using robots to help children with developmental or cognitive impairments to interact more effectively has just started at the University of Hertfordshire.

Recommended for you

Future US Navy: Robotic sub-hunters, deepsea pods

Mar 28, 2015

The robotic revolution that transformed warfare in the skies will soon extend to the deep sea, with underwater spy "satellites," drone-launching pods on the ocean floor and unmanned ships hunting submarines.

Festo has BionicANTs communicating by the rules for tasks

Mar 27, 2015

Germany-based automation company Festo, focused on technologies for tasks, turns to nature for inspiration, trying to take the cues from how nature performs tasks so efficiently. "Whether it's energy efficiency, ...

Virtual robotization for human limbs

Mar 26, 2015

Recent advances in computer gaming technology allow for an increasingly immersive gaming experience. Gesture input devices, for example, synchronise a player's actions with the character on the screen. Entertainment ...

Robots on reins could be the 'eyes' of firefighters

Mar 25, 2015

Researchers at King's College London have developed revolutionary reins that enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital ...

Robot revolution will change world of work

Mar 24, 2015

Robots will fundamentally change the shape of the workforce in the next decade but many industries will still need a human touch, a QUT Future of Work Conference has heard.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nan2
not rated yet Jun 05, 2009
Hurry up! We have a rapidly aging population who will eventually require assistance with daily living activities. Creating a robot that can monitor health/medication compliance, help with meal preparation, seek help when necessary and perform basic household tasks that become out of reach for the aging, injured and ill would be a boon. The conundrum would be making it affordable for those in need vs a human paid companion or institutionalizing/warehousing aging, injured or even the post-operative patient without family to care for them outside of a hospital setting. Robots have the potential in providing a positive and profound difference for 'aging in place' which would allow a better quality of life and perhaps cost savings ultimately.

This will become a pressing issue in the not too distant future which will strain resources (financial and otherwise) and the health infrastructures. Our ability to provide for the aging/seriously chronically ill is currently inadequate not only in the USA but elsewhere.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.