A much-anticipated arrival took place Feb. 10 when a rare, highly-advanced “humanoid robot” that was shipped by air from Italy and delivered by truck from Chicago arrived at the loading dock of the Beckman Institute. The delivery ended a more than year-long process that began when Beckman researcher Stephen Levinson put in a bid for one of the coveted research robots from a European Commission consortium project called RobotCub.
Levinson’s bid was accepted, the robot was painstakingly assembled, programmed, and tested, and then donated to Levinson’s Language Acquisition and Robotics Laboratory for 99 years.
Now Levinson’s group will begin the task that won them the honor of being the only research lab in the Western Hemisphere to be awarded an iCub: training the robot to learn language as a child would and, in an assignment from RobotCub, also train it to learn how to walk.
The iCub’s capabilities are special. While it is programmed to do certain tasks, the challenge for the Levinson lab will not be to program the robot but to train it to “learn” to do tasks in the way that a child would. In fact, the iCub is designed to mimic a human child in order to gain insight into human psychology and neurophysiological development, as well as areas such as computer science, robotics, and even philosophy.
The iCub, which costs around $300,000, is about the size of a two-and-a-half year-old child, can crawl on all fours, and can sit up. The iCub has a sense of touch (key for acquiring language, such as when learning to differentiate between a hard object and a soft object), its hands permit dexterous manipulation, and its head and eyes are fully articulated.
Graduate students Lydia Majure and Logan Niehaus of Levinson’s lab spent part of their summer of 2009 working with an iCub in Italy, home to several institutions that are part of the consortium. Next up for Levinson and his students is to get the robot working properly and on its way to adding to our knowledge of language acquisition.
This article is part of the Spring 2010 Synergy Issue, a publication of the Communications Office of the Beckman Institute.