Scientists at the Cognitive Humanoids Laboratory work at the forefront of the robotics and neuroscience research implementing models of cognition in robots of humanoid shape. This heterogeneous group of people aims at understanding brain functions and realizing robot controllers that can learn and adapt from their mistakes.
Activities encompass the construction of the hardware, that we call "bodyware", and software which will make, one day, machines of intelligence comparable to humans. We call this technology "mindware".
On the bodyware side we developed the iCub, a humanoid robot, shaped as a 4 years old child. Simultaneously, we are addressing the development of the technologies for the next generation of robots based on soft and adaptable materials both for sensing and processing.
On the mindware side, the laboratory is involved in the realization of the cognitive skills of the humanoid robot; that is, providing the robot with visual, auditory and tactile perception and the ability to gaze, reach and manipulate objects.
G. Sandini, G. Metta, D. Vernon. The iCub Cognitive Humanoid Robot: An Open-System Research Platform for Enactive Cognition. In 50 Years of Artificial Intelligence. Essays Dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of Artificial Intelligence Series: Lecture Notes in Computer Science , Vol.4850, Lungarella, M.; Iida, F.; Bongard, J.; Pfeifer, R. (Eds.) , Springer-Verlag. 2007.
L. Craighero, G. Metta, G. Sandini, L. Fadiga. The Mirror-Neurons System: data and models. In Progress in Brain Research, 164 "From Action to Cognition". von Hofsten C. & Rosander K. editors. ISBN: 978-0-444-53016-5. Elsevier. 2007.
G. Metta, G. Sandini, D. Vernon, L. Natale, F. Nori.The iCub humanoid robot: an open platform for research in embodied cognition. In PerMIS: Performance Metrics for Intelligent Systems Workshop. Aug 19-21, 2008, Washington DC - USA .
The iCub is the humanoid robot developed as part of the EU project RobotCub and subsequently adopted by the Cognitive Humanoids Laboratory at IIT. It has 53 motors that move the head, arm & hands, waist, and legs. It can see and hear, it has the sense of proprioception (body configuration) and movement (using accelerometers and gyroscopes). We are working to improve on this in order to give the iCub the sense of touch and to grade how much force it exerts on the environment. Simultaneously, we are already planning the next generation of humanoid robots: they will be made of soft actuators, new stronger and lighter joints with power efficiency closer to that of biological systems like ourselves.
Our real interest is of course in the eventual realization of intelligent machines. We research on the basic technology of cognitive systems and on its translation into a full working system. Our modus operandi in this case starts from biology, that is by "reverse engineering" the brain, continues through mathematical modeling of specific brain functions that finally find an implementation on the humanoid robot. Examples of the cognitive skills that we study are attention, reaching and manipulation. Although broad in scope this research has a clear and measurable target also of industrial interest. In particular, humanoid robots can be imagined as helpers in manufacturing, office or home environments. In this respect, for example, we address safety in human-machine interaction (at the cognitive, control, and hardware level). We also participate to projects that will add language skills to the iCub and we are developing microelectronics for sensing, actuation and processing.
Open source and patenting
IIT in general seeks to transfer from basic research to industrial exploitation. Our projects are for the most part open source including the hardware, schematics, documentation and software. This is no contradiction since patenting which protects against commercial exploitation does not prevent use for research. On the other hand, where the patent protects the invention (the technical solution), the open source license grants the right to use and redistribute the plans to build the invention.
Our current research agenda is available here.