Having previously developed several baby robots, the researchers at Osaka University’s Asada Lab are using that know-how to build the most realistic infant robot ever made. It has been about a year and a half since we saw Affetto, which was just a head capable of making a few expressions. Now the researchers have published a video showing the robot’s new upper-body, which contains 20 pneumatic actuators to move its arms, neck, and spine. This is in addition to the 12 degrees of freedom in its head. Although pneumatic actuators are more difficult to control compared to electric motors, they are flexible, allowing for direct physical interaction (a big plus if you want to be able to cuddle it).
Currently the body weighs just 3 kg (6.6 lbs). Eventually it will be covered in the same soft urethane elastomer gel as the robot’s face, which will not only make the robot more inviting to touch but safer to interact with. And they plan to add tiny hands to the arms, and legs can’t be too far behind. The project is being funded through to 2016, so we can expect further developments.
The idea of building baby robots may seem strange but the research falls into a category known as cognitive developmental robotics, which studies various aspects of human development. In this case, the robot will be used to study the caregiver-child attachment relationship which is considered critical to a child’s development. Studies have shown that a great deal of the interaction that occurs between a mother and child comes from her perception of the child’s mind and her expectations of that child’s development.
In the past, studying this kind of relationship with robots like Noby has been difficult because they weren’t realistic enough. Basically, the person playing the role of caregiver tends to treat the robot differently because it didn’t give the impression of possessing a mind or the possibility for growth.
Unlike CB², which was rather large, Affetto has been built to the average size of a 1~2 year old child. By making the body smaller, it is more likely to engender the kind of care one would give a real infant.
Furthermore, because a smile is considered an indication of successful interaction between a parent and child, Affetto’s face has been modeled on that of a smiling boy. Whereas CB² had a more neutral facial expression, all of Affetto’s expressions stem from a smiling state, so it is more likely to reinforce the caregiver-child attachment relationship. In the future, other aspects including its voice, body temperature, skin, body movements, and even smell will help to round out the illusion.
In the long-term, it is expected that research results will impact our understanding of neuroscience, cognitive science, and developmental psychology – not to mention the science of building lifelike humanoid robots.
Images and project details summarized from “Realistic Child Robot “Affetto” for Understanding the Caregiver-Child Attachment Relationship that Guides the Child Development”, Hisashi Ishihara, Yuichiro Yoshikawa, & Minoru Asada.