LIREC (Living with Robots and Interactive Companions) is a five year EU-funded project by ten partners that explores long-term social interaction between humans and robots (as well as digital companions). The goal is to build the next generation of sociable artificial agents, and to do so some of the teams have been studying the human-canine relationship. The idea is that robots could benefit from dog-like behavioral models since human-level intelligence and behavior is still out of reach.
The LIREC project is scheduled to end this August, so recently a video of its final review was posted to YouTube. In the thirteen minute demonstration (video), one of the project’s robots plays a simple game where it learns and guesses colors. As you’ll see, it guesses correctly only some of the time – which just goes to show how difficult it is to build intelligent robots when sensors are finicky! The project has given rise to two humanoid robot platforms: CHARLY (by the University of Hertfordshire) and FLASH (by the Wroclaw University of Technology).
FLASH (Flexible LIREC Autonomous Social Helper) is the first humanoid robot we’ve seen from Poland. It’s a combination of Wroclaw University’s EMYS (EMotive headY System), WANDA (a four-fingered dexterous hand and arm), and COSMOS (a self-balancing mobile base). It stands 1.2 meters tall (just shy of 4 feet), and has approximately 27 degrees of freedom (head x8, neck x3, 2 arms x5, 2 hands x3) actuated predominantly by Robotis servos. It comes equipped with vision and auditory systems and proximity sensors (laser, ultrasonic, infra-red) for obstacle detection, though it relies on predefined maps of its environment.
You may have seen the EMYS head (named after a pond turtle) in earlier news reports. The designers have implemented a unique strategy by dividing it into three parts (the brows, eyes, and lower jaw), each moving separately to create seven distinct expressions.
The jaw drops and the brows lift to signal surprise, while the eyelids can blink and rotate which help give it an angry or sad appearance. The eyeballs themselves don’t actually contain cameras (a single camera is positioned between the eyes), but they can spring out of the head like Beetlejuice. The head and hands were fabricated using 3D printers with the help of Produkt Dizajn Studio, TF Construction, and Cad-Mech.
CHARLY can be considered the descendant of Hertfordshire University’s KASPAR robots, which have been used in autism research and therapy. It has a rather scary, mask-like face taken from a semi-realistic resuscitation doll. We strongly urge the team at Hertfordshire to work on their design aesthetics for future robots. Despite it and the KASPAR robots’ eeriness, the researchers claim that children with autism enjoy interacting with the robots all the same.