The great success of robots so far has been in automating repetitive tasks in process control and assembly, yielding dramatic cuts in production, but the next step towards cognition and more human-like behaviour has proved elusive.
It has been difficult to make robots that can truly learn and adapt to unexpected situations in the way humans can, while it has been equally challenging trying to develop a machine capable of moving smoothly like any animal. There is still no robot capable of walking properly without jerky slightly unbalanced movements.
But significant progress has been made over the last few years, and the stage was set for a push towards a new generation of intelligent machines at a conference bringing together young scientists in both Europe and Japan, which both have a strong history of robotics development. The event, jointly organized by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), and held in Japan, was targeted at young researchers actively working in the fields of cognitive science and robotics.
The difficult problem of making robots capable of moving elegantly was discussed in two presentations, with Professor Florentin Worgotter from Gottingen University in Germany pointing out that Russian physiologist Nikolai Bernstein had anticipated the difficulty of mimicking animal movements in 1930, because this required a complex combination of mechanics, neuronal feedback, and instantaneous adaptability.
However Worgotter suggested that with greater understanding now of how animals coordinate their movements, the same principles could soon be transferable to robots, even if it will be some time before this problem is solved completely.
Meanwhile Dr. Shuuji Kajita from Japanese research group AIST demonstrated biped robots with new walking techniques based on the Zero-Moment Point principle, which is essentially designed to ensure that any top heavy system such as a humanoid robot can walk without losing balance or imposing too great a stress on its points of contact with the ground. Such robots move considerably better than earlier machines, with scope for further improvement.
Enabling robots to be adaptable and learn from their mistakes in their operating environment was another major focus of the ESF/JSPS conference. Professor Yasuo Kuniyoshi from the University of Tokyo admitted that traditional approaches based on artificial intelligence techniques developed over the past 25 years had not succeeded in making adaptable robots. Such techniques involve breaking down events that a robot has not been programmed to expect into smaller parts in an attempt to analyse them. The problem with this is that the robot has no context in which to decide how to act, and an alternative approach now being tried involves imposing constraints on the robot's interactions, from which more intelligent behavior can emerge.
Then Dr. Ales Ude from the Jozef Stefan Institute in Slovenia introduced the new concept of 'object-action complex' (OAC), which has recently been proposed to help robots learn actively through manipulation in an attempt to perform specific tasks. This can be combined with imitation and coaching, resembling more closely the way people learn new tasks.
No matter what approach is adopted to teaching robots, there has to be some form of communication with humans, and so this was another major focus of the conference. Professor Aude Billard from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Laussane reported recent progress developing natural means of transmitting human knowledge about tasks and skills to robots. Her work exploits various methods of human-machine interaction, in particular the ability to imitate. Up to now, giving robots the ability to imitate even simple gestures has proved sufficiently complex to occupy the research community for many years.
But very recently, it has become clear that the way forward lies with enabling robots to interpret the user's intention and predict the user's actions. Billard's group has progressively added complexity to its algorithms (computerised procedures) for learning by imitation, taking inspiration from various stages of learning in children. This starts from reflexive imitation of body motions and builds up to informed and selective replication of goal-directed tasks.
The future of cognitive robotics lies in combining the techniques discussed at the ESF/JSPS conference to develop true humanoid machines capable of assisting in homes, offices, and public places. For example a humanoid butler could assist disabled people at home, while humanoid porters could carry heavy bags in airports or train stations.
Thomas Lau | alfa
Investigating cell membranes: researchers develop a substance mimicking a vital membrane component
25.05.2018 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
New approach: Researchers succeed in directly labelling and detecting an important RNA modification
30.04.2018 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
17.07.2018 | Information Technology
17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering