Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Meet Robo habilis

23.07.2008
A European research project has brought the dream of human-like robots closer to reality by creating a human-like arm and hand controlled by an electronic ‘brain’ modelled on the human cerebellum.

“Hollywood did a bad job for us,” says Patrick van der Smagt, the coordinator of SENSOPAC, an EU-funded project whose goal is to create a robotic arm, hand and brain with human-like physical and cognitive capabilities.

While the movies have convinced many people that humanoid robots, such as C-3PO or WALL-E are realistic, van der Smagt knows all too well how difficult it is to build robots with even basic human abilities.

Yet robots that could function flexibly and safely alongside people in everyday environments could revolutionise daily life.

Existing robots, such as those that help assemble cars or computers, can perform repetitive actions quickly and precisely. However, says van der Smagt, “they are not very intelligent or flexible and they don’t do very much sensing”.

The international team of neuroscientists and roboticists that he leads decided that the best way to make a robot that is intelligent, flexible and sensitive is to model it on the human body and brain.

This approach, called biomimetics, is inspired by the realisation that evolution has provided the human body and brain with an astonishing range of abilities. “We can run for hours, yet also perform very high precision tasks,” says van der Smagt. “If you compare that to any robot system, it’s oceans apart.”

After two-and-a-half years of research, and €6.5 million in funding by the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research, SENSOPAC scientists have designed and tested a human-like arm with a dextrous and sensitive hand, controlled by a computer program inspired by the human cerebellum.

Sensitive skin

Every step towards this accomplishment required groundbreaking research by the 11 partners in the consortium.

To develop robotic skin as sensitive as human skin, the researchers started by studying how human skin senses not just pressure and position but features such as the direction pressure is coming from.

To mimic the skin’s sensing capabilities, researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), guided by physiology results from Umeå University, in Sweden, created a thin flexible material filled with a form of carbon whose resistance changes with pressure. This approach let them combine information from sensors in different parts of the skin in order to minimise the number of information-carrying wires.

“We can soon integrate hundreds of detector elements and get the information out with just five wires,” says van der Smagt. “And we have the ability to distinguish between shape, the amount of force, and the direction of force.”

The human arm and hand can generate and control a remarkable range of force, from the delicate touch of a watchmaker to the power of a javelin thrower. Much of this range of force and finesse comes from the pairs of opposing muscles that control each joint.

Researchers at DLR took the same approach. The artificial arm they built and are now experimenting with uses a total of 58 motors in opposing pairs, coupled with non-linear springs, to control the arm.

The hand they have built is closely modelled on the human hand. It can snap its fingers, pick up an egg or carry a cup of coffee. Its fingers are moved by 38 opposing motors.

Again, the researchers had to go back to basics, for example making detailed MRI studies of human hands in hundreds of different positions.

“Surprisingly enough, this doesn’t exist anywhere else,” says van der Smagt.

How to build a brain

From the start, the group knew that sensitivity, dexterity, and strength were not enough. They had to provide the biomimetic arm with a high degree of intelligence.

Their ultimate goal is to create a microchip that will allow the arm to carry out tasks requiring human-level skills in a real-world setting.

Van der Smagt envisions an arm that could “decide” to pick up a cup, sense important properties of what it contains, for example water versus flour, and move it from place to place.

“It’s not that the system needs to know that there’s water in the cup,” says van der Smagt, “but how to handle whatever is in it appropriately.”

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, and at Lund University, in Sweden, decided that the best approach was to model the human cerebellum.

The cerebellum is a fist-sized organ at the base of the brain that coordinates sensation and movement.

The researchers are currently using software to simulate important aspects of how the cerebellum processes and integrates information.

“It’s the first neural-network-based controller that can control the dynamics of a robotic system in its full operational range,” says van der Smagt.

In the next six months, they will be seeing how well this system can learn to control the arm.

Although he is excited by the group’s progress towards a robotic arm and hand with human-like capabilities, van der Smagt remains impressed by what nature has already done.

“It makes one realise that we are still light-years away from achieving what biology has accomplished,” he says. “We are definitely not there yet, but we are getting much closer.”

Christian Nielsen | alfa
Further information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults

More articles from Medical Engineering:

nachricht A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes
28.03.2017 | Technische Universität Braunschweig

nachricht 3-D visualization of the pancreas -- new tool in diabetes research
15.03.2017 | Umea University

All articles from Medical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers shoot for success with simulations of laser pulse-material interactions

29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling

29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation

29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>