Saturday, January 14, 2012

One Per Cent

Curious skull-bots interact with their human visitors

How can curiosity help robots to communicate with humans? That's the question Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, head of the Flowers team at research institution INRIA, in Bordeaux, France, wants to answer - and to do it he is enlisting visitors to an art gallery in central Paris.
Tucked away in an egg-shaped structure at the Fondation Cartier lurk five ergo-robots - skull-faced, chirruping critters programmed with artificial curiosity and language acquisition algorithms designed by Oudeyer and his team. The ergo-robots are also equipped with sensors that allow them to interact with the curious public who have come to peer at them daily since their installation in October.
2nd-pic-ErgoRobots17.jpg(Image: Aul Fudal/INRIA Flowers)

The robots are part of a mathematical art exhibition, Beautiful Elsewhere, but they are not just there to be gawped at. They, and their audience, are taking part in a five-month long experiment called Ergo-Robots: Artificial Curiosity and Language, which is looking at how the robots learn to interact not only with themselves, but with real humans too.
Due to their fragility, experiments involving curiosity-driven robots are usually limited to two or three days. This is the longest experiment to date and is also the first time that curiosity-driven robots have been exposed to humans behaving naturally - previous studies have always involved a human behaving like another pre-programmed robot.
1st pic ErgoRobots13.jpg 
(Image: Aul Fudal/INRIA Flowers)

From what he has observed so far Oudeyer believes his experiment shows promise. The curious robots explore how to change the behaviour of their human observers, who then react, forming a feedback loop, he says. Eventually "a simple structured and conventionalised form of communication shall self-organise between the robots and the humans," he adds.
Oudeyer hopes that the experiment might point to how artificial organisms learn social skills and communication, something that might inform research into cognitive and social development in infants along with new ways to engineer human-robot interactions.
The exhibition is open until March 18th.

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