JST’s ERATO Asada Synergistic Intelligence Project (led by Prof. Minoru Asada of Osaka University), with the Socio-Synergistic Intelligence group (led by Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University), developed a humanoid robot called CB² (Child-robot with Biomimetic Body). The robot was designed to study human cognitive and social development; interpersonal responsive behaviors, motion capabilities, language acquisition, sensory-motor organization, and more.
Programming a robot with the complexity of human intelligence, such as the ability to communicate and develop personal relationships, is extremely difficult if not impossible. One alternative would be to develop these skills in a robot in the same way as humans do from early childhood. Human parents help their child along, so humans would need to interact directly with the robot as well. This meant that CB² would need to be safe for humans to touch and hold, and have compliant joints that don’t resist human guidance. These requirements led to what can be considered the most advanced infant-like robot ever designed.
In the past, tactile sensation was not considered important in such robots – even though the sense of touch is as vital to human interaction as vision and hearing. In order to incorporate the sense of touch, CB²’s entire body is covered in a soft silicone skin with 197 highly sensitive tactile sensors underneath it. The soft skin allows human beings to interact with the robot directly without the risk of being injured by hard metallic parts. PhD student Tomoyuki Noda has been working on soft tactile skin for robots at Osaka University for several years. Cameras inside its eyeballs provide vision, while microphones in its ears and the surrounding environment allow it to “hear”.
CB² has a total of 56 degrees of freedom, stands 130cm (4’3″) tall, and weighs about 33kg (72 lbs). It has 51 pneumatic actuators which are fed compressed air through a bundle of black cables going into its back. The other 5 actuators are servo motors used to control its eyes and eyelid movements. It even has artificial vocal chords with which it can make simple sounds like “oh, oh”. The internal mechatronics were designed by Kokoro Co. Ltd. (see also Diego-San).
Although CB² is often described as “creepy”, I personally find him to be kinda cute. While it is much more realistic than many abstract robots, its gray skin and simple face are not as unsettling as Prof. Ishiguro’s Geminoids. Its child-like appearance even coaxes the researchers who work with it to treat it in the same way a parent would a child. CB² was first unveiled to the press in June 2007. Since then, CB² has been taught the motor skills necessary to move around a room fairly smoothly (though it still requires human help).
In March 2010, Prof. Minoru Asada and Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled two new robots with similar objectives; M3-neony and M3-synchy. These robots are small and inexpensive, so they may be mass produced for use in research institutes around the world.
- Osaka University Asada Lab (JP/EN)
- Tomoyuki Noda’s website (EN)
- Osaka University Intelligent Robotics Lab (JP/EN)
- CB² @ Impress Robot Watch (JP)
JEAP | Impress Robot Watch | Tomoyuki Noda