Monday, April 11, 2011

That Human Touch

This is fun. The European Union is backing the development of a Robot intended to learn much like a baby would, through experience, rather than being pre-programmed to perform set functions. The ‘iCub’ is equipped with 53 motors that allow it to move its head, arms, hands, waist and legs in smooth, natural movements. It can flex its fingers. It can see and hear, thanks to its camera eyes and microphone ears. Occasionally, it blinks.

Participation is bringing iCub to life. Universities around Europe and in the US and Japan have iCubs (you can pick up the entry level model for the princely sum of 200,000 Euro) and are collaborating on its development with open-source software. They’ve done some fun things like getting the iCub behind a drum kit and simulating a gym workout.

In theory a learning robot could pave the way for intelligent machines that can do all sorts of things, from working on production lines on less than predictable processes, to helping out around the house. It would be nice to have one that can iron a shirt and make good pasta. Maybe the best news is that iCub 2.0 will have a sense of touch, which means that just maybe one day it could learn to tell when you need a neck rub.

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