GetRobo recently interviewed Prof. Minoru Asada, one of the world’s leaders in the field of cognitive developmental robotics, and got the inside scoop on his lab’s latest infant robot. Developed with Hisashi Ishihara (Osaka University) and Yuichiro Yoshikawa (JST ERATO), Affetto (Italian for affection) is a robot resembling a 1~2 year old child that will be used to research early human social development. Its more realistic facial expressions enhances its believability, which should encourage researchers to interact with it more naturally than they had with its seven siblings (such as CB²), which depict stages of development from 7 months to 5 years.
Currently Affetto is nothing more than a head (originally modeled in clay based on a model) with 12 degrees of freedom covered in a soft , deformable urethane rubber. DC motors pull or relax wires attached to specific points to move parts of the face.; the forehead can move up and down, the left and right eyebrows can move up and down, the upper lip can protrude, and the lower lip has 5 points of articulation. The jaw can open and close, the eyes can pan and tilt in unison, while the neck can move the whole head using compressed air. This level of sophistication allows Affetto to mimic its caregiver’s facial expressions. Incidentally, the robot has also learned to mimic the vowel sounds used by its caregiver in computer simulations.
The mutual attachment that develops between a child and caregiver appear to be key ingredients in learning important social skills during development. For example, even before a child learns to speak parents will interpret their child’s needs and emotional state based on their expressions. The parent’s positive feedback then reinforces the child’s ability to express herself. The research not only examines the interactions between real human infants and their caregivers, but attempts to build a model to better our understanding. Cognitive developmental robotics is a new field so it’s difficult to chart the most promising avenues of research, but building a realistic robot to simulate development is a start.
Update: Hisashi Ishihara has a few more details for us.
“As you know, the robot is still under development. I’m now assembling its upper torso and implementing some sensors in the head and simple feedback controllers.
My goal is to build a robot that can develop its social ability through social interaction with others, like human babies. I have investigated the mechanism of infant development and found that it is important for that development to be treated as a social agent by caregivers. Therefore, Affetto has to be equipped with realistic appearance to be treated as a human being.”
Osaka University, JEAP