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 robots.
"Our main motivation for the project was to advance the understanding of how humans recognise and imitate gestures," says Professor Giulio Sandini, coordinator of the three-year IST-funded project, MIRROR. "We did that by building an artificial system that can learn to communicate by means of body gestures."

Researchers began by designing and conducting behavioural experiments with infants of different ages and with monkeys within the framework of the so-called ‘mirror neurons’. These neurons, first discovered in the brains of monkeys, have the unique property of being activated not only when monkeys or human infants perform specific grasping actions, but also when they see the same grasping action performed by someone else – for example, the mirror image of his or her own body. Mirror neurons behave as a motor resonant system activated both during goal-directed actions and the observation of similar actions performed by others.

During the first year of the project, researchers worked at improving humanoid robotic platforms and conducted experiments using a ‘cyber glove’. This set-up allowed researchers to collect visual and motor data that was used in investigating the relationship between vision and action in the recognition of hand gestures.

The second year’s experiments with monkeys and infants investigated how visual and motor information can be used to learn to discriminate grasping actions. They then used that information to show how, by detecting visual clues to the function of an object, a robot can mimic simple object-directed actions.

In the final year they concentrated on integrating the developed work into a humanoid robot, which consisted of a binocular head, an arm, and a multi-fingered hand. Although the integration is not fully complete, they believe they have uncovered many elements of a biologically-compatible architecture that can be replicated in robots.

”We now have better knowledge of how and when the ability to grasp objects appropriately appears in human babies,” says Professor Sandini. “From the robotics point of view, we demonstrated that it is easier to interpret actions performed by others if the system has built a representation of the action during learning. Learning precedes understanding. We implemented a complex behaviour on our robot based on this representation.”

Although the project is finished, all the members of the consortium now participate in a follow-up FP6 IST project called RobotCub that has, among other aspects, the scientific goal of continuing the MIRROR’s project work. RobotCub focuses on building a humanoid platform and studying the development of manipulation skills.

Source: IST Results

Explore further: Engineered proteins stick like glue—even in water

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UMSL scholar examines evolution of learning

Aug 14, 2014

Why do monkeys learn to be afraid of snakes and not flowers? Is this knowledge the result of evolution by natural selection? Did the monkeys that couldn't learn that association quickly die and not reproduce?

Activation of brain region can change a monkey's choice

May 29, 2014

Artificially stimulating a brain region believed to play a key role in learning, reward and motivation induced monkeys to change which of two images they choose to look at. In experiments reported online ...

Monkeys can point to objects they do not report seeing

Nov 19, 2013

Are monkeys, like humans, able to ascertain where objects are located without much more than a sideways glance? Quite likely, says Lau Andersen of the Aarhus University in Denmark, lead author of a study ...

Recommended for you

Engineered proteins stick like glue—even in water

17 hours ago

Shellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of MIT engineers has designed ...

Smallest possible diamonds form ultra-thin nanothreads

17 hours ago

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin "diamond nanothreads" that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest ...

A nanosized hydrogen generator

Sep 20, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale "hydrogen generator" that uses light and a two-dimensional graphene platform to boost ...

User comments : 0