A pan-European team of robotics researchers began a project this year that could see humanoid bots interact with groups of people in a realistic, anthropomorphic way, for the first time.
The “Humanoids with auditory and visual abilities in populated spaces” (HUMAVIPS) project has the ambitious goal of making humanoid bots just that bit more human by building algorithms that will enable bots to mimic what psychologists call the “cocktail party effect” -– the human ability to focus attention on just one person in the midst of other people, voices and background noise.
If successful, HUMAVIPS will give future humanoid bots something that existing bots don’t possess -– the simple social skills necessary to deal with small groups of people, including the basic intelligence to pick out a group of humans and determine which ones want to interact with it. It could also endow bots with the ability to infer meaning from incoming sense data, which would be a rudimentary step towards truly anthropomorphic robot intelligence.
Led by Radu Horaud, Director of Research at INRIA, the three-year project, which has attracted 2.6m euros in European Commission funding, builds on the POP project (see Wired’s December report), which provided proof-of-concept for the idea that combining auditory and visual information improves a bot’s ability to pick identify human speakers in the midst of background noise.
Read more about HUMAVIPS here.
A team of European experts is working on a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton that could enable people currently confined to wheelchairs to walk again and also help astronauts rehabilitate to Earth gravity after prolonged periods in the weightlessness of space.
The MindWalker system, which is being developed as part of a three-year, 2.5 million euro project, consists of a brain-computer interface (BCI), a virtual reality training environment and a robotic exoskeleton attached to the legs.
If perfected, MindWalker will enable people with spinal chord injuries to achieve mobility by sidestepping their spinal chord as a communications pathway to their lower limbs. And, instead of having to rely on wheelchairs or walking frames to get around, they will be supported by an exoskeleton specially designed for everyday use.
Meanwhile, astronauts returning from prolonged space trips — trips that can cause severe bone deterioration and muscle loss — could use the system on their return to Earth to speed up their readjustment to Earth gravity.
If successful, the EU-funded project will bring several advances in different areas of BCI and exoskeleton design.
Read more about MindWalker here.